Robert Valler is the Commanding Officer of Training Ship Armidale, which is the 67th training establishment of the Australian Navy Cadets. They will celebrate their 15th Anniversary on 29th and 30th of November this year.
> How long have you lived in the New England Region
I have been in the New England area since 1994, when I came here to study at UNE. I ended up teaching in Armidale and then left for a period of time with the Department of Education and travelled around the state to places such as Lightning Ridge, Scone and Urana, in various teaching positions. I always felt a connection with Armidale and the New England and never lost contact, almost always ending up back here during vacation periods.
At the end of 2005 we found a beautiful house in Uralla and I moved back here with my wife Ellen, and children Kyah and Jacob. Not long after we also welcomed a brand new baby girl, Chelsea, into our family. Armidale has had many connections for me and probably, apart from the lifelong friends that I made while I was here, the Navy and the university are integral to this – funnily enough they are all very much linked together by common people.
> What do you find appealing about our area?
Where to begin! I would have to say first and foremost the seasons. Having come from Chinchilla in South Western Queensland, green rolling hills (hills in themselves were even a treat!) beautiful spring gardens, autumn colours and snow was and still is wonderful!
However, the history that is here, along with the culture and diversity and experiences for all senses really does make it God’s country. Above all of this, though, would be the people. I have met and now call my friends some of the most warm, accommodating, and truly sincere people here in the New England.
> What is your role with Training Ship Armidale?
I am the Commanding Officer of Training Ship Armidale, which is the 67th training establishment of the Australian Navy Cadets. I took command, as is the phrase, in October 2006 and had very big shoes to fill. Lieutenant Max Tavener had been the previous Commanding Officer up until the beginning of 2005 and had run an exceptionally successful training program since 1993.
Max was, in fact, the founding Commanding Officer and has been an inspiration for youth training both locally and throughout the Australian Navy Cadet organisation and beyond. In fact, this year marks the 15th Anniversary for Training Ship Armidale, an occasion of which we are very proud.
> What sparked your interest in joining the Navy Cadets?
I must admit that it was not something that I actually sought out. It was under miserable conditions that I first came to know of the Navy cadets in Armidale. I had never been a cadet in my youth, but had always had an interest in the military and moreover, the Navy.
It came as some surprise when on a very cold, wet, and windy day in mid 1995, that I noticed ‘the Navy’ in central park as part of a youth fun day. Curious as to what the Navy was doing in Armidale, I was told that they were the Naval Reserve Cadets (as they were then known), and from there I made enquiries as how to be involved.
After my initial training I became a staff training instructor, Stores Officer, and later the Coxswain of Training Ship Armidale. After leaving Armidale for a teaching position in Lightning Ridge, I continued to be involved, working closely with the Logistical Support Cell at HMAS Penguin in Sydney and instructing on Annual Training Camps, particularly in the area of staff inductions.
Upon my return to Armidale it was simply natural to return to my roots and become involved again directly with Training Ship Armidale, and from there I was appointed to the position of Commanding Officer.
> What type of activities are Navy cadets involved with?
To give the official reply to this, I would say that the Australian Navy Cadets is a youth development organisation which provides training and practical experiences in a maritime environment. In reality, it is so much more than this.
Navy cadets are involved in seamanship, leadership skills, abseiling, trekking, swimming, shooting, bivouacs and have the opportunity to participate in tri-service events, sailing competitions, annual camps, and visit and work with Royal Australian Navy establishments and ships. On a weekly basis cadets undertake all manner of activities – for every activity there is both a theoretical and practical component. The unit has an annual inspection parade and annual awards for those cadets who have excelled throughout the year, as well as a promotion structure which brings with it privilege and responsibility.
There is a niche for every interest that a cadet might have, from technology through to general military experiences, team building and generally finding friends. They gain skills for the real world and they are given an avenue to develop themselves and work in a highly effective team.
A lot of what we do is about self development, self esteem, self confidence and also providing an insight into so many areas of the world, not just the Navy, that they may never normally come across.
Those who join and progress through Navy Cadets become confident young men and women who contribute so much to society and wear their uniform with a great sense of pride.
> Who has been the driving force behind TS Armidale?
As I mentioned, Max Tavener was the founding Commanding Officer of the unit, and his praises cannot be sung highly enough for the excellent foundations he set and the sheer hard work that had to be put in to secure a premises and funds for the establishment of TS Armidale.
In addition to Max however, many others assisted with an equal passion, including Joe Eyck, Chris Barndon, Peter Rosario, Liz Lancaster, Denise Coombes, Peter Bannon, Tom Stevenson CMDR Andrew St. John Brown RANR, the Naval Association, the Corvettes Association, the Ex Services and RSL Club, many local businesses … and the list goes on.
Since then the support from individuals, organisations and businesses has continued to grow and others have come and gone as staff members and volunteers. Today the staff consists of myself, Sub Lieutenant Melanie Kristensen (Executive Officer), Commander Andrew St. John Brown (Regional Staff Officer), Max Tavener as a Unit Support Volunteer, as well as the many dedicated helpers, including my wife Ellen and the parents of the cadets.
> Thank you Robert.
For details about the November weekend or to become involved in the organisation, you can contact Sub Lieutenant Robert Valler on 0429 991 488.