Evelyn Nordhoff is a Defence Industry Adviser at the Centre for Defence Industry Capability in NSW. Evelyn attended our Sydney Speed Mentoring event in November 2018.
Did you always know that you wanted to work in the defence space? What interests you most about this industry?
Yes, I developed a keen interest in Defence when I was a child. There were a few factors that influenced me back then: my father served in the UK Armed Forces in occupied Europe and the Indo-Pacific during and after WWII. He also served in the Australian Army after the war. His father served on the Western Front in WWI; whereas my mother’s father served in Guadalcanal during WWII. Both grandfathers were severely Wounded in Action. My father would tell me of his adventures and challenges faced on operations, most of the time with limited supplies and equipment. I learned, very early in my life, the importance of guarding the freedom, democracy and sovereignty for which they fought and suffered.
My mother’s and auntie’s experiences in the Royal Fiji Police Force was also a huge influence on me. They taught me the importance of upholding the rule of law to protect democracy, peace and regional stability and inspired me to read law.
The protection of democracy in our region remains very important to me. I am grateful to now contribute to a resilient, efficient and enterprising defence sector to strengthen our defence capability and support our allies.
In your opinion, what are some of the challenges that women continue to face in this industry and how can we address them?
Whilst many men and women are exemplary leaders and mentors for women in the defence sector, there are still too many in wider society opposed to women’s right to self-determination and full participation in society. Some members, even groups, of different sexes still display themselves as barriers, and actively devalue women for their contribution to defence or discourage women from further education, trivialise our achievements or experiences.
I believe women deserve to celebrate our achievements and should support each other, so on a personal level it is wise to be discerning when choosing whose company to keep. I never accept, excuse or justify rudeness at work or elsewhere and I would implore other women to do the same. At the community level we have much opportunity to help others understand the critical contribution by women already, and the social and economic benefits that arise from women realising our full potential. At the international level we must continue to implement the UN Women, Peace and Security Agenda, plus advocate for and support the excellent efforts of organisations such as the ASPI Women in Defence and Security Network.
Speaking of the ASPI WDSN, you recently attended our Sydney Speed Mentoring event – what was one of the key takeaways you have from the evening?
It was a wonderful opportunity to engage with mentors and peers in the Defence and Security sector - great to hear their stories, and learn from their experiences. I was heartened by the diversity of skills and expertise of women in our defence sector. It was also a pleasure to share my own career and personal experiences with some of the younger ladies there who were interested in my area of work. My main takeaway was the sense of strong friendship, openness and diversity of expertise - we truly are very lucky to have the support of the APSI WDSN in Australia. Its value really is a force multiplier and I look forward to hearing many more positive stories in the decades ahead. I also reflected that my mother’s generation did not necessarily have such support as we do now.
You told a wonderful story about your mother and aunty who were part of the first group of women police officers in Fiji. Can you tell us some more about them?
My mother is an amazing woman: matriarchal, strong and loving; intuitive, intelligent and possesses unlimited will-power. The eldest of ten children, born in the final year of the war, mum received an excellent education in Fiji and learned several languages before she and my auntie became the first women in the Royal Fiji Police Force in 1967. Mum was the most dedicated mother, devoted and stoic wife - and we all certainly learned to obey the house rules early! Mum also showed amazing strength when Dad passed away; she taught us to keep calm and carry on.
Evelyn's mother (pictured on the left) was part of the first group of women police officers in Fiji.
Why do you think it is important to recognise and remember the generation that came before and paved the way for us? What can we learn from people like your mother and aunty?
What they achieved in the 1960s was and remains special. They stood up to be counted, took the risk and dared to be different. They also led by great example a massive cultural change for women in defence and security in the Pacific and with dignity, honour and respect. I feel a deep sense of gratitude for the liberties we have inherited because of them and women like them. From time to time I am surprised by certain remarks about women in defence and security, so there is still work to be done. We have to build on the foundations we have been given and create the best circumstances we can for the next generation. We’re also maximising our defence capability when we develop the capacity and capability of women in defence and security. No individual or organisation can do that alone, so initiatives such as the APSI WDSN are critical.
My mother always taught me to follow my heart and remain true to myself, so it was quite natural for me to express my values and beliefs in a practical way through my work for Defence. I hope more women will choose a career in defence in our region; there is no good reason not to.
Finally, what books are currently on your bedside table?
The Plantagenets, by Dan Jones, that offers a thrilling and vivid description of England’s greatest royal dynasty. I also keep close Lithgow's Small Arms Factory and Its People, Volumes 1 and 2, by Tony Griffiths which is an educational read on our defence industry achievements over the last century.
Updated: 09 Jan 2019