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‘We’ve come a long way’, RAAF marks 100 years


When Wendy Horder first joined the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in 1979 it was like opening the door on a man’s world.

Assigned to a communications tower at Victoria’s RAAF Williams Laverton Base, the then-25-year-old spent her first years of service with four male tower operators; breathing their cigarette smoke, hearing their crude jokes and shuffling their Playboy magazines aside to use the shared toilet. 

“I came from a pretty sheltered catholic upbringing in a small country town in the Hunter Valley,” Wendy said.

“So it was a shock to be a part of this world.”

“For half of my career I pretended I was a bloke. I didn’t talk about the kids at work, I didn’t talk about the husband and I didn’t talk about making dinner so that it didn’t appear that I had other responsibilities.”

Fast-forward to 2021 and Group Captain Wendy Horder says she’s grateful things have changed within the institution she has dedicated almost 43 years of her life to.

“There’s no need to act like a bloke anymore,” she said.

“It’s about diversity now, and being a woman brings diversity to the executive.

“We’ve come a long way.”

On 31 March 2021, the Royal Australian Air Force will mark 100 years of service to Australia. 

For Wendy, the upcoming celebrations offer a chance to reflect on a workplace she now describes as ideal.

“I’ve had four children and I’ve still had a career, I’ve reached Group Captain and I’ve travelled. For me it’s been an employment of choice. I’d pick it again.”

Her passport boasts stamps from countries including Thailand, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, East Timor, Hungary, Germany, India, Cambodia, Solomon Islands, Samoa, USA and Malaysia.

While it was her love of flying that drew her to the RAAF, she never contemplated becoming a pilot.

“I think even in those days most people said to me ‘women aren’t pilots’ and I guess I accepted that.

“It wasn’t until 1988 that pilot training was offered to women.

“Two females graduated from that first course and one of them came dux. It was really exciting at the time.”

The RAAF is now home to four female fast-jet pilots.

Wendy is now working in a number of different areas within the RAAF, including the sexual misconduct prevention and reporting office (SEMPRO).

“I’m developing some curriculum for their training on how to manage incidents,” she said.

“It’s another step forward and another way I can give back to the air force. 

“It’s also another way I can assist the younger generation of women coming through.”

A source of great pride for Wendy was her work as director of the Broderick Review in 2013.

“Elizabeth Broderick was the sexual discrimination commissioner at the time,” Wendy said.

“She conducted a review of the treatment of women in the ADF and it was my job to implement the recommendations.

“I think that was fundamental to a lot of changes that we [RAAF] have had.

“At that time our chiefs of services agreed to have target numbers of women in all of the services,” she said. 

“The Airforce and Navy agreed the number of women in the services would be 25 per cent by 2023.

“The Airforce has already hit that target.”

The RAAF now boasts employment opportunities for women in both technical and non-technical environments, from engineers, firefighters and pilots, to health professionals or personnel and logistics specialists. 

Yet while she holds great pride in her industry, she admits there is still room for improvement.

Her legacy, before she retires, includes addressing the gender gap in superannuation.

“In 1979 equal pay was introduced but there is still a pay gap,” Wendy said.

“That’s predominantly because women are the nurturers, they have a baby and stay home for a little while and in some cases they’d take maternity leave at half-pay or no pay, leaving their super far behind men by the time they finish their service.”

Internationally however, women in the ADF (Australian Defence Force) have made their mark.

Wendy was proudly the first female defence attache Australia has sent overseas, a role she performed in the Solomon Islands in 2008.

She also lectured a UN course in Cambodia about the special needs of women and children in conflict.

“Women are being addressed in all areas of the RAAF and the countries it deploys to. It really is wonderful to see.

“I’m very proud of the way it has shown a focus on gender, peace and security within its International policy.”

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