words by Luke Griffiths
photography by Matt Turner
Kirsty Low misses her life as a submariner. A lot. In 1999, at the age of 19, she put her hand up to become one of the first 10 women to serve on a submarine for the Royal Australian Navy.
After an intense training period, Ms Low’s core role became that of an acoustics warfare analyst, which in non-military speak is best described as being the ears of the operation. “The key skill was sonar, because obviously submarines don’t have windows. It was about keeping safe through sound and other senses – an absolutely fascinating, exciting and challenging role,” Ms Low says. “I remember clearly hearing whales, dolphins and other marine life, which was pretty special.”
Out at sea for weeks on end with a crew of around 55, versatility was essential. Far from being responsible for only one aspect of the operation, Ms Low was trained in a variety of areas, which ultimately saw her conduct walk-throughs of the submarine, explaining how different systems worked and how they integrated with other facets of the boat. “There was almost always a lot of work to cover, but I saw it as challenge and it helped to form a bond with the crew, who I looked at as family,” she says.
“Occasionally there was some downtime and on rare occasions we’d surface and have a barbeque on top of the boat while at sea, sometimes I’d be able to have a swim. … A sombre occasion was when we surfaced in the middle of nowhere and held our own Anzac Day dawn service – one of the most touching things I’ve ever been part of.”
A family experience in her mid-teens kick-started Ms Low’s career at sea. Her father, Stevan Coll, was a naval officer, so she intimately knew the benefits such a role brought, but it wasn’t until a government sanctioned activity – one she admits would unlikely be allowed nowadays – that solidified her future plans. “When I was 15 or 16, I was lucky enough to do a father and daughter trip to sea for a week, experiencing all sorts of things. That go me hooked and thereafter being at sea is all I wanted to do,” she says.
Having married a fellow submariner and after eight years in the role, Ms Low left her life at sea to spend more time with her two young children. However, she always wanted to remain close to submarines, which explains why she sought a position at ASC after six years at the federal Defence Materiel Organisation.
The Sydney native has for the last four-and-a-half years been the ASC’s risk and insurance manager, during which time her family has adopted Adelaide for its laid-back charm, liveability and beaches. “With the Future Submarines announcement and other projects happening, it’s a very exciting time at ASC and morale is high. I do miss being a submariner a lot, but I’m very happy to be part of the support function this time around,” she says. “Adelaide has a bit of everything and we camp a lot so the ease in which we can get to the Flinders Ranges is fantastic. Then there’s the wineries of course… there’s so much to do. I’m not going anywhere.”
The amount it takes to fund the Future Submarines project
The number of Future Submarines to
be built at Osborne
The time construction will start at Osborne
The number of jobs that will be created through the new project (1700 of these will be at Osborne)
The length of a Shortfin Barracuda submarine
The endurance of a Shortfin Barracuda submarine
The time construction at Osborne will extend