From the desert to diving for Alice Springs sailor

Able Seaman James Steer checks the communications system on the diver compression chamber in minehunter HMAS Diamantina. Photo: Commander Kelli Lunt

From the desert to diving for Alice Springs sailor

It’s always a little bit surprising to meet someone who grew up surrounded by desert, with the nearest ocean miles away, who went on to become a Navy clearance diver.

For Alice Springs local James Steer, that is exactly the career path he chose.

Joining the Navy Gap Year program after graduating from St Phillips College, the now Able Seaman Clearance Diver said he needed a bit of encouragement from his parents Jenny, who runs the Get Physical gym, and Tony, a mechanic, to finish high school.

“Mum and Dad encouraged me to stay and finish Year 12 and it actually helped me get into the Navy,” Able Seaman Steer said.

“I did my Gap Year in 2016. This involved Recruit School at HMAS Cerberus then a base tour from Sydney, to Perth, to Nowra.

“I was then assigned to HMAS Albatross in Nowra and I worked at a bunch of different squadrons.

“During the tour, I met an able seaman diver and after talking to him, he said I should try it – that I’d like it.”

Able Seaman Steer spent his childhood playing AFL for the Federals and camping.

With a good physical fitness base and natural aptitude, Able Seaman Steer successfully completed the selection assessment for clearance diving.

“I had only dived once before, during my gap year,” he said.

“The course was hard in parts, but I wanted something challenging and to show my family I could complete the course.

“It was tough, but I have a lot of good memories and I met some great people.”  

During his postings to Australian Clearance Dive Team 4 at HMAS Stirling in Western Australia, a chance offer to deploy on a minehunter overseas had Able Seaman Steer join HMAS Diamantina – and her crew of about 45 sailors and officers – in September.

Diamantina and her sister ship HMAS Gascoyne then sailed for a deployment to north-east Asia to participate in a range of mine counter-measure exercises, friendship visits and international engagements, including port visits to the Philippines, the Republic of Korea and Japan.

“Working in a minehunter is different to working in a diving team,” Able Seaman Steer said.

“People on the ship are friendly and I actually get to experience so many things.

“In the last exercise with South Korea, I got to do three days of diving looking for exercise mines.”

While he may not have sampled much Japanese food while growing up in the red centre, one of the highlights for Able Seaman Steer was attending a barbecue in Yokosuka, Japan.

“The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force invited us over for a barbecue,” he said.

“We had a good time. My Japanese is terrible but they were teaching me. I’ve loved trying different foods.

“I tried ramen, sushi, takoyaki – literally I got to sample everything at the barbecue.”

Able Seaman Steer is certainly living up to his career goals.

“I wanted to do something challenging and see more of the world,” he said.

And that’s exactly what he’s doing as a clearance diver in the Royal Australian Navy.

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