Able seaman Joanne Russell at Snapper Rock for a break from the navy.
Able seaman Joanne Russell at Snapper Rock for a break from the navy. John Gass

Aussie GI Jane rides the waves of success

SHE'S Australia's version of GI Jane. But unlike the US version, the Tweed-born 24-year-old has loved every minute of her Navy training and is in no hurry to leave.

Able Seaman Joanne Russell was a rascal at Tweed River High School.

"It's pretty ironic that someone who couldn't handle discipline is now in the Navy," she laughed.

"I wasn't the best at school and I've always been loud.

"My family had their doubts when I said I wanted to join the Navy."

Once they realised she was determined, they got behind her 100%.

"I love my family," she said.

"My mum and sisters have been incredibly supportive.

"But I also love my mates in the Navy.

"They are like a family to me, too."

She now has friends all over the world.

"I didn't know what to expect at first," she said.

"It all started off as a notion with my friends at school.

"Then I realised this was a chance to really do something and prove myself.

"So I gave it my best shot and I'm so glad I did."

The Navy has taken her to Asia, Cambodia and Singapore.

"They are beautiful places," she said.

"But they also made me realise how lucky we are to live on the Tweed.

"I've seen kids begging in rags on the streets, yet they have huge smiles."

Joanne said she has grown to appreciate her childhood on the Tweed as something "very special".

"There's no place like home," she laughed.

She isn't claiming that her training was easy.

"It was pretty tough," she said.

And this is coming from a kid who couldn't take orders at school.

"That's so funny, 'cos I've learnt self discipline and realise how valuable it is in life, as well as in the Navy."

She believes life in the Navy is better for women "these days."

"I'm a pretty strong person," she said.

"But you stand your ground as you would anywhere when it's appropriate.

"I would recommend the Navy to other young women looking for a career."

But Joanne advises them to get out there and "run amok" first.

"After that ... there's no better career," she said.

And what of the future?

"I'm going to stay in the Navy for quite a few years," she said.

"I'd like to move up the ranks and earn respect.

"I never thought I'd say that.

"When I started out it was a huge learning curve.

"But here I am.

"I never could resist a challenge."


  • The RAN has the highest percentage of women in the ADF
  • Women have served in Australian armed forces since 1899
  • Women were integrated into the services during the late 1970s and early 1980s and can now serve in most positions in the Australian Defence Force, including combat roles.
  • In 1975, International Year of Women, the service chiefs established a committee to explore opportunities for increased female participation in the military.
  • Equal pay was granted to servicewomen in 1979.

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