A Navy sailor has made a heart-warming return to her hometown of Fitzroy Crossing to help the community recover from the devastating floods following ex-Tropical Cyclone Ellie.
When Leading Seaman Boatswains Mate Teneille Francis stepped out of an Army MRH-90 Taipan helicopter during a community open day, no one was more surprised than her grandmother, Bunuba Elder Mary Aiken.
Those in the Fitzroy community who knew of Leading Seaman Francis’ pending arrival had kept it a well-guarded secret.
“I didn’t know anything,” Mrs Aiken said. “So, this came as a complete, but very welcome, surprise.”
Leading Seaman Francis has joined the Defence task group that is providing assistance to the flood recovery efforts in the Kimberley region at the request of the National Emergency Management Agency.
She arrived in time to take part in a traditional smoking ceremony, which had been organised by her grandmother to welcome the Defence and emergency service personnel supporting the community.
The remote town was at the centre of the state’s worst flood event on record, with the main highway and many surrounding communities still isolated by the water damage.
Leading Seaman Francis said she looked forward to liaising between the Defence contingent and the local communities she grew up with.
“I know, from talking to family and friends, that these floods have impacted a lot of people, so I’m keen to play a role within the Defence contingent in any way I can,” she said.
Air Force Indigenous Liaison Officer Flight Lieutenant Tramaine Dukes, who has got to know many of the locals, said having someone on hand who grew up in the community would benefit the Defence effort.
“Bringing Leading Seaman Francis into the team, with her local knowledge and connections, will strengthen our engagement efforts,” Flight Lieutenant Dukes said.
Leading Seaman Francis went to school in Fitzroy Crossing and the nearby town of Derby and is the first person from the community to join the ADF full-time.
She joined Navy in 2017 and previously completed a two-year deployment at sea on HMAS Adelaide.
Most recently she has been posted to the Fleet Support Unit at HMAS Cairns.
While her main motivation for joining Navy was for the opportunity to travel and make life-long friends, she also had previous family connections in Defence.
Grandfather Bill Aiken was a reservist in the North-West Mobile Force Kimberley Squadron during the 1980s and completed training at Larrakeyah in Darwin and at RAAF Tindal.
Like his wife, Mary, Bill Aiken was equally surprised to see his granddaughter climb out of a helicopter at Fitzroy Crossing.
“They all did well keeping that one a secret,” he said.