John Crawford’s military story is one of change. Change in technology, change in responsibilities, change in warfare, change in himself. He joined the Navy in his home town of Adelaide at 16 years of age, keen to get out and see more of the world. Attracted to the water from a boyhood of sailing and messing around in boats, he undertook basic training at HMAS Leuwin in Western Australia before joining HMAS Canberra as a seventeen year old.
When I joined the Navy you had to queue up at the telephone box at the naval base to call home and ships were equipped with traditional guns and missiles. Now, every sailor carriers a mobile phone and highly accurate systems like GPS means you can land a bomb on a button.
The Australian Navy was at the forefront of many technological advances across the military during John’s service, and he was on-hand to be part of their implementation, the biggest being the introduction of computers in daily life. The highpoint was perhaps during the First Gulf War in 1981 when Australian ships had some of the most advanced navigation and communication systems of any vessel across the US-led coalition. John was responsible for controlling the mid-air refuelling, or ‘tanking’ of coalition carrier based aircraft including US F-18 and F-14 jet fighters utilising large shore based tanker aircraft. Due to burning up to 40 percent of fuel to get airborne off a carrier, planes were tanked immediately overhead to increase strike range.
It was performance based advancement that helped John be promoted and change jobs around every 3 years within the Navy. In a career which started as a Radar Plotter John went on to complete postings as an operations room manager, tactical aircraft controller, ships diver, and member of boarding parties overseeing UN weapons and trade sanctions. During the closing days of the cold war John worked for the US Airforce Space Command in Woomera, South Australia and Colorado Springs utilising satellites to detect Ballistic Missiles and enforce UN no fly zones.
“Conflict is also changing” says John, “and it is no longer clear who the enemy is. During World War One and Two, and even up to the Vietnam, it was obvious who your opponent was and how the battle would be fought. But now in the age of insurgencies and terrorism, any man, woman or child with a bag may be a potential threat to a military unit.”
John’s naval time is testament to how the Navy can equip people with valuable life skills, and he does not hesitate when asked if he would recommend the Navy as a career path for young men and women.
The good thing about the Navy is that everyone leaves with something – a technical qualification, leadership abilities, awareness of the world.
“The Navy is a great way to get a start in life for those willing to put in, as well as providing a variety of day to day tasks and excitement most employers are unable to match.”
One of John’s most memorable postings in the Navy, was in the role of Bosun then Sailing Master on the training tall ship, the Young Endeavour. His navigation and communication skills honed in the Navy were of particular benefit during the ill-fated Sydney to Hobart Race of 1998, as the Young Endeavour acted as the radio relay boat between the emergency services and the fleet that was being battered by horrendous sea conditions. His efforts locating yachts and relaying their co-ordinates with rescue helicopters and vessels contributed to the lives of many sailors.
On discharge from the Navy John was appointed Operations Manager at Rosman Ferries, Sydney before joining Harbour City Ferries as an Operations Controller in 2012. Here, he co-ordinates the minute by minute movements of 32 Ferries across 40 wharfs between Manly and Parramatta.
The day to day life of an Ops Controller may not carry the same risk as a war zone, but it can still provide a thrill. “The best days of all are when there are 80,000 passengers on the ferry network and you are down on vessels and crew. You have to stay ahead of the game, predicting where the customers are going, think fast make decisions and keep the timetable running.”
John believes that the 100th Anniversary of the Gallipoli landings has provided the kick needed to reinvigorate public recognition for people who have or still serve Australia in the armed forces, but he also has a word of caution. “Some people out there are using Gallipoli for commercial purposes, it shows a lack of respect.”
It is unlikely that you will ever see John as he sits in the Operations Room behind reflective glass at the end of jetty 3, Circular Quay though most know his voice well. But just remember the next time you take a ferry – the man who got you to where you are going on time knows how to fuel a fighter jet in mid-air.