Women connect through power of sport

Department of Defence

Lieutenant Kaitlin Clohesy created a special community after setting up a women’s Australian Rules team at HMAS Stirling.

She moved to Stirling with her children in late 2022 and discovered the base had excellent facilities, but no sporting team.

“I just wanted to meet new people,” Lieutenant Clohesy said, adding it was difficult because the base was on an island 75km south of Perth.

“Not everyone has a car. I thought it’d be a good opportunity to create an environment where there’s no rank and people who post in can come along.”

The Peel Football Netball League welcomed the Navy team, which included current and ex-serving members.

“It provides a connection to the Defence community and a sense of pride and camaraderie, which can be lost for veterans on transition out of Defence,” Lieutenant Clohesy said.

“Several team members are also mothers. This helps with fitness to return to work from maternity leave. It also gives us a whole little fan base with our kids.”

The team made the grand final in its first year and is hoping to bring home the premiership in 2024.

“We’re attracting not only Defence people but spouses and community members,” Lieutenant Clohesy said.

“We have two civilian school teachers on the team and they have brought some of their students along to training.

“It’s great for them to see what the base is like and the culture and respect we display amongst the team.”

‘It’s not about sport at all. It’s the sense of community that comes out of it. It’s a vehicle that brings people together.’

Lieutenant Commander Elisabeth Quinn, staff officer for workforce resilience at Fleet Headquarters, said the Stirling story highlighted the team’s positive impact on individual and collective wellbeing.

“It’s not about sport at all. It’s the sense of community that comes out of it. It’s a vehicle that brings people together,” Lieutenant Commander Quinn said.

“I’ve seen the power of sport to transform lives and to save lives.”

Team captain Seaman Jessica Edwards said Australian Rules provided an unexpected impetus to pursue a Navy career.

“Football is the reason I joined after my gap year because I was lucky enough to participate in the RAN Australian Football Association Carnival, which is Navy football – versing the Army and Air Force. And through that I was selected for the All Stars team,” Seaman Edwards said.

“That’s what made me sign on to the Navy.

“I’ve met amazing people that have become mentors and great friends, and I’d never have met them if I didn’t play football or wasn’t able to participate.”

Lieutenant Clohesy said it’s especially useful for Navy women who serve away from home.

“They know that we’re here and that when they come back, they can play,” she said.

Lieutenant Commander Quinn said options are being explored for more women’s Australian Rules teams in areas with large Defence populations, and the benefits go well beyond physical and mental health.

“It also fosters those qualities we want to see – leadership, teamwork. Building relationships with the community and promoting a sense of inclusivity and belonging,” Lieutenant Commander Quinn said.

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