Ellen Zyla

Board member and women’s network lead Ellen Zyla is musician in the Royal Australian Navy Band – Sydney and is our member in focus this month.

Q: When and why did you join the Defence.

I joined the Navy in June 2003. I was studying a Bachelor of Music at the University of Southern Queensland when I auditioned for both the Australian Army Band Corps and the Royal Australian Navy Band. I had wanted to join the Royal Australian Navy Band since I was 15.

Q: Please explain what you do.

I am an Able Seaman Musician and have been posted to Royal Australian Navy Band Sydney for the majority of my career. I am currently the National Public Relations Manager for the Royal Australian Navy Band. This role covers a vast array of duties including all marketing and public relations within Defence and the greater music world, candidate liaison for prospective members and looking after the Band’s social media site, just to name a few.

Q: What attracted you to the job?

Where else could I go to combine my loves of Music, the Ocean and Ships?! Oh and wear one of the best looking uniforms in the world!

Q: What has you experience been as an open LGBTI member of the ADF

I have been extremely lucky since coming out within the military. (I went through Recruit Training closeted to everyone and myself for the most) I was fortunate enough once posting to Royal Australian Navy Band Sydney following Recruit Training to have other LGBTI members in my unit, who took me under their wing as a little 21 year old and showed me that it was safe and amazing to be yourself within Defence.

Q: Has being ‘out’ as an LGBTI person changed your experience within the ADF?

I don’t think it has changed my day to day experience. I am very much of the belief that your sexuality doesn’t define you who you are. We all have our own jobs to do and it is your personal character and work ethos not your sexuality that shows others your value.

Q: How did you feel when you were not ‘out’?

Prior to ‘coming out’ I would try and act like all of my other mates, ‘date’ people within our circle of friends, try to hide my awkwardness and true feelings about certain things. I don’t ever believe I wasn’t me, I just didn’t disclose all of me.

Q:  Have you had any challenges in your career?

An experience, be it good or bad, is still an experience. The ability to learn from both is the important part. A very close friend of mine told me during my ‘coming out’ that you can not expect everyone to be comfortable or alright with it straight away. Remember how long it took yourself to come to terms with your sexuality and extend that amount of time if not more to those nearest and dearest to you.

Q: What has been the most memorable experience you have had within the ADF?

I have been fortunate enough to have many amazing experiences within Defence. Including playing for Commemorative Services in Gallipoli in 2013, performing in the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo in Edinburgh UK in 2012, Deployments to the Middle East and East Timor, sea postings in HMAS Tobruk, HMAS Adelaide and HMAS Kanimbla (all of which are now decommissioned)…. The list goes on.

Q:  If you have deployed on operations what were you doing, where were you and how was that experience?

My deployment to the Middle East and the two deployments to East Timor have consisted of myself and a small team of Royal Australian Navy Musicians travelling as Tech Crew (sound and lighting) for some of Australia’s finest musicians and comedians as part of Forces Entertainment. My last deployment was in Feb/March this year and we did stints where troops are deployed all over the Middle East. I would deploy again in a heart beat, it is a side of our job that I truly enjoy as I get to expand my skills and knowledge surrounded by amazing service men and women from all walks of life.

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?

Ask questions of other members within DEFGLIS or your work area if you feel comfortable enough. Most of us are more than happy to talk one on one. We may not have been through what you are dealing with but we all have our own experiences that we have learnt from and battled obstacles that at times seem too large to ever come through the other side. We have a real and serious issue when it comes to mental health within our community and Defence at large. Support, care and understanding are three big things we must offer to everyone regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Embrace the uniqueness of being you, there is no-one else like you and that is amazing!

Q: What are some of your interests outside of work?

When I am not at work, I am a member of Different Strokes Dragon Boat Club, a predominantly but not exclusively LGBTI crew. We train 3 times a week and also hold many social events. Since taking up Dragon Boating and Outrigger Canoeing in 2011, I have had the amazing opportunity to manage a very diverse team in an International Dragon Boat Regatta in Boracay, Philippines. I also travelled to Canada in 2012 as a member of a six women crew to compete in the Worlds Longest River Race, The Yukon River Quest. This was a 740km race that we completed in 50 hours 24 minutes and 32 seconds (not that we were counting). We crossed the finish line 16th overall and 3rd in our class.

Image 1: Ellen Zyla at the Military Pride Ball 2016

Image 2: Ellen Zyla plays in the Royal Australian Navy – Sydney Band