Monday, January 24, 2011


How does it feel being the only unarmed sailor in pirate waters? Just ask Ulverston man Max Walker in six months time.
Chaplain Max Walker holding a bible
Chaplain Max Walker
Max didn't get to spend New Year’s Eve quietly at home with his sister Sharon Gleeson or brother Leigh Walker.
Instead Max, 48, is now the Navy Chaplain aboard HMAS Stuart and — just before New Year’s Eve — he and his 190 shipmates set sail for pirate patrol off the Horn of Africa.
This won’t be the first Navy adventure for this man of action. Max joined the Navy in 1981 as a sailor, became an aircraft technician, and completed an aerospace engineering degree at RMIT.
After managing the maintenance of the Navy’s mine-hunter fleet, Max then worked as an engineering consultant in Asia before realising he was looking for more from life.
After time at theological college he was ordained as a Presbyterian Minister, and then rejoined the Navy as a Chaplain. Not bad for someone who dropped out of Sunday School.
“I’ve been aboard Stuart for four months now,” said Max. “It means I won’t be a stranger to the crew when we set sail.”
“As Chaplain I hold a church service every Sunday — about 15 crew members attend regularly. But that’s only part of the job.
“As a Chaplain I have no official rank,” said Max. “That means I can talk to anyone without any barriers between us. I can scrub dishes with junior cooks or chat over coffee with the officers. It means I do get a feel for how things are going.
“It means I can use my other training when necessary — things like suicide awareness, or relationship counselling if things go wrong back home. It’s safe to talk to me because I’m outside the chain of command.

“We are also a warship, a fighting ship — which means bad things can happen. If they do I’m part of the mental health support for my shipmates. In post-traumatic stress the first 24 hours are critical, and then it’s important to see how people are travelling after that.
“Meanwhile I’ll be keeping in touch with my wife Fiona and our two kids, Bethany in Year 7, and Jin who’s still in kindergarten. The ship’s communications are fantastic — and we’ll be using emails to work out what presents I should bring back. Pandora’s bracelet is pretty big at the moment!
“We’re also planning a holiday in Fiji — something a bit different from our usual bushwalks around Crater Mountain or the Walls of Jerusalem.”

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