Peta Hughes

I have always known Peta, to be a woman that waves the flag very passionately for feminism, and celebrating women and their accomplishments. I have known her, to be a loyal and devoted friend to the people around her. Peta is very aware of her emotions, and from conversations with her, she tries to live very closely to her core values. I knew that Peta had been in the navy but I didn’t know her role.

I saw a post on Facebook, celebrating the anniversary of the day, she was the first woman, in the Royal Australian Navy to fire a missile. I was so proud of her, and it solidified for me, her passion and commitment to feminism and celebrating women. Because, she had done something so significant, and bad ass in a male dominated profession. I couldn’t wait for our interview.

“I was on the HMAS Sydney, I was the second woman to do the job of fire control technician on frigates. Frigates at this point hadn’t long had women on board.”

“Really, all male crew into the early nineties? How?

“Because it was the whole warfare thing, women were not allowed to go to war, the job that I did was combat role, and I was on a frigate which is a war ship.”

“So why did you choose the job you did?”

“In 1993 when I joined there was three jobs available. They were recruiting for chefs, stewards. My mum and dad had been in the navy, and dad said, “you will be totally bored doing the chef and steward’s job. You could easily do this job of electronics technician.” I had absolutely no interest in technicians I just wanted to travel.”

“If it was all male, why start recruiting women to combat roles?”

“More opportunities where coming up and they had roles that needed to be filled. But you know the thought of sending a women off to war, I mean it’s tradition to protect the little woman and all that. War is the last bastion isn’t it.  Women can be nurses, teachers. Well I mean she can fire a missile too you know. I mean later on I went to east Timor and the Persian Gulf. I didn’t go during the war, I was in Kuwait after the war though.”

“The rank that I was, was a seaman that is bottom rung. I was 22 when I was posted on there, you know a ship is so rank orientated. You need to prove yourself. When I was at Cerberus in Melbourne – Port Phillip Bay, there was 10 female technicians, amongst 400 blokes. We really stood out, we couldn’t hide. When you look at this through a feminist microscope there is sexism and misogyny everywhere, patriarchy everywhere.”

“Ships are like a very, very small towns, people talk. As a naval woman early on in my career I learnt to keep my head down and just do my job. As a woman I was always a little bit afraid of being judged. I felt an enormous amount of pressure being in such a male dominated job.”

“There was aptitude testing to do this role, I passed those. I really liked that it was the crème de la crème of the techos. This was the job that happened to keep me at sea a lot as well, so I was able to do a lot of travel. Out of ten years I spent six on ships. Twelve months of that was in San Diego with my radar and missile course. There is the radar and there is a 3 inch and a 5 inch gun on the launcher and it tracks the target. I mean fire control, I was like oh yeah I want to do that. It was really, really fun, at the time we were so young and so arrogant.”

“So in relation to the missile, the girl ahead of me never go to fire it, all the boys had a turn, I was just lucky really when it came to my turn. I was working for the weapons electrical engineering officer, as a technician, we were operators and maintainers, I was a maintainer technician. But we operated the radar as well, and that is how I came to fire the missile. The gunnery officer directed us what to shoot at, where and when.”

“We had trained and trained and trained, I had my chief, my petty officer, the leading seaman we all worked together. Lots of testing of signals and safety stuff goes on. We would do a preparation called ballistics, so it would take in the weather, wind speed, the temperature anything that would alter where the missile was going to go. So what I fired was an anti-air missile,  it would be a drone remote control air-craft, towing a target, on a very long 2km line. The target was a computer as well. We didn’t want to blow up the target, the missile was designed to blow up near the target. But well I actually blew up the target.”

“I was always really good under pressure, we had been trained to be a machine, we did so much training, so many drills, it was constant, there was sleep deprivation, and there was more pressure. We were machines, our emotions were ignored.”

“My gunnery officer said to me “this is for navy news”. I said without hesitation, nope. I didn’t want to bring attention to myself, I didn’t want to be different to the guys.”

“Really this was such an important step for women in the navy”.

“Yep I know”

“It wasn’t celebrated!”

“Nope, maybe I was thinking it would divisive, I mean in order to survive you just have to get on board with things that are going on around you.”

“I was always good friends with the guys, I never got on board with all the sexist jokes or anything, but I was just quiet, got on with my job and was friends with most people. But above all I had the girls back. When I was on the Melbourne I was an able seaman, and the leading hand in the mess for two years, because I did a great job. And I always was like what happens in the mess stays in the mess. I was always like don’t be talkin’ shit about the sisters here, cause it will not be tolerated. We need to stick to together to be a force.”

“In communal living it is all about honesty and respect for others. If someone needs to be left alone, leave them alone. Wash your clothes, wear your deodorant. Cause someone will tell you, you stink.”

“The absolute best thing about the navy for me was the friends I made, I am still friends with a lot of them. The water was also a saving grace for me. All that water, looking out at the ocean on a starry night with the moon reflecting off the ocean, seeing the dolphins and the whales.”

“By the time I was finishing I couldn’t wait to get away, I was done. I had done my 10 years and I just thought I can’t wait to get away from the patriarchy. The navy has a really poor environmental record which really pissed me off. I had enough of going to sea, I mean they own you. They run everything, tell you when to eat, you just have to do what they say. Once you sign on the dotted line they own you.”


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Day 7

Boy 1: “Mum what is for breakfast” (every single morning, he asks this question.)

Me: “toast, muesli, weetbix”

Boy 1: “mmm can you please cook me poached eggs on toast?”

Me: “Of course”.

Boy 2: “Can I please play the PlayStation?”

Me: (laughing) “No.”

Boy 1: “are my eggs ready?”

Me: “No”

Boy 2: “Why can’t I play, the PlayStation?”

Me: “Have you finished your book review?”

Boy 2: “No”

Boy 1: “What happened to the eggs?

Me: “Nothing. They are poached like you asked.”

Boy 2: “I hate reading and book reviews”

Me: “That’s ok, you still need to do it. So start.”

Boy 1: “I hate poached eggs”

Me: “That’s ok, I just cooked them for you and you will eat them. So start”.

This was the 6.30am start of day 7. Grateful, this frustrating start didn’t set the tone for the day.

I spent time again in the garden, for the Womankind nature challenge, wrote my diary entry for that. (the feature photo, me and the big guy hanging out in nature on a tree stump.)

This afternoon just before school pick-up, I had another interview at Double Brass my local coffee shop. I honestly cannot wait to sit down and write about it.  I am loving this new little project that I have going on. I am getting positive feedback, and it is not only inspiring me but my boy’s as well. I was telling boy 1 about the interview during our after school chat in the car, sitting in school traffic.  He was so intrigued, impressed and interested in everything that I was telling him about the lady that I interviewed. (the interview is with the first lady to fire a missile in the Royal Australian Navy and will be published on the 9th September).

End of day 7

Looking forward to putting my little darlings to bed, and then pigging out on the mars bar pods that my husband left for me in the fridge.

Found a pile of wood that my husband cut for me to burn, while he is at work.

Janis Joplin

I don’t find this woman particularly inspiring, I find her an interesting woman who lived in a time of great change for women.

The 1960s were a decade of revolution and change in politics, music and society. It was an era of protest. The civil rights movement had people protesting about the rights of different races. Female activists demanded more rights for women, women’s roles in society was beginning to change. Women were able to plan careers and have families when they wanted, this was the result of the pill and contraceptives being introduced.

In a post war period people all over the world started working hard and respecting the values they were brought up with. It was an era of recovery and rebuilding. During the 1960s young people started questioning such values. They protested against society and everything that was mainstream.

Social change was also reflected in the music of the decade.

The first female rock superstar and the voice of a generation, along with Jimi Hendrix was discovered at the Monterey pop festival.

She was raised in a Texas oil refinery town called Port Arthur, the eldest of three daughters raised by middle class professional parents who provided a stable, pleasant home. Her school life was the opposite she was bullied as an adolescent for wearing jeans and men’s shirts, this woman endured being called sheep and pig and voted “ugliest man” in a school awards night.

This woman veered from manic highs to depressing lows, she grasped every piece of life by the horns and tried to make it hers. This woman was insecure in herself and tried to hide behind a flamboyant exterior. She was intelligent, captivating, perceptive and expressive she had all of these wonderful qualities but would never feel anything but worthlessness. This was expressed in her destructive behaviour of extreme drug use, her signature accessory of a bottle of southern comfort and her unsafe sex experimenting with a rotating stream of men and women. All of this her family struggled to understand.

She dropped out of college and hitchhiked to San-Francisco to play at the Monterey pop festival. Where she was discovered as a musician.

This was the time of the great hippie movement. Haight-Ashbury hippie precinct that housed hippies who embraced drug use, free sex and the hippie lifestyle. Mainstream America was appalled by this lifestyle. These were lifestyle experiments, a concert called the Human Be-In was organised, and they offered free turkey sandwiches laced with LSD to the thirty thousand attendants. This experiment initially was a success but buy the end of 1967 hippie numbers had exploded and the city was suffering. The organiser’s begged “hippies” to go home.

At this point she was living on the streets as a slave to hash, amphetamines, cocaine and heroin. She neglected her music career in favour of the elusive high, she then turned to dealing in New York as a way to survive. She meet a fellow speed addict who promised to marry her and then realised she was ruining her life. This woman after her first failed attempt at fame, packed up her destructive life and headed back to Texas where she tried her hand at baking and secretarial skills, while waiting for her speed addict fiancée to come and marry her.

She was so afraid her music would ruin her again after kicking her habit and never seeing her fiancée again, that she would only sing in coffee houses. After a lot of persuasion by music industry leaders she headed back to San Francisco where her raw, loud and wild voice took her to extreme highs. She fell back into bed with women mostly, but was still looking for the man of her dreams. She also embraced her true lover’s heroin and cocaine. She was uncooperative with journalists and photographers and was known for being very real and wouldn’t put up with bullshit.

This woman played all the major rock concerts of the time including Woodstock, she also sang with the Rolling Stones at Madison Square gardens.

She had a special relationship with the Hells Angels and saw them as romantic figures who loved drugs and hated authority.

The last band that she played with was Full Tilt Boogie who she recorded “Pearl” with, the album would go on to be number one on the charts for fourteen weeks. This was 1970 and she was having the time of her life, creating the music that she loved, and was clean of heroin for 6 months.

After an argument with her mother and being told “I wish you hadn’t been born”, a physical fight with Jim Morrison from The Doors, and reconnecting with an old friend who was a heroin addict. Janice Joplin at the age of 27 was found cold and blue on her Hotel floor after a heroin overdose.

I think that for the time Joplin’s life course was extreme and while there was women experimenting in the hippie and feminist movements, it was at a much more sedate pace than Janice Joplin. She was an extremely unhappy woman in herself who tried to fix these problems with external sources. She was never going to be able to settle down in to married life with children and a mortgage.