11 April 2019
Thirty years ago, Wayne Ratu sat opposite his school’s careers adviser at Stratford High School.
“Wayne, what are you going to do?” the adviser asked.
The youngster, on the spot, spotted a Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) recruitment poster on the wall behind the adviser.
“I’m thinking of joining the Navy,” he said.
The careers adviser nodded, and to the boy’s consternation, reached into a drawer and pulled out some paperwork.
Thirty years later, Warrant Officer Marine Technician (Propulsion) Ratu still reflects on that moment.
“He had the paperwork, he gave it to me, and I took them home. That was my career sorted out on the spot,” he said.
Last month Warrant Officer Marine Technician (Propulsion) Wayne Ratu received his first clasp to his Navy Long Service and Good Conduct Medal, signifying 30 years of continuous service in the RNZN.
He remembers telling his mother about the idea when he got home from school.
“I had been looking at doing a building apprenticeship, but I had applied and hadn’t heard back,” he said.
“I hadn’t been doing much at school. Mum was pretty happy – she wanted me to have a trade, and Dad had served in the Army in the late 1960s.”
He took a bus to Auckland from New Plymouth in June 1988.
“I had just turned 18, with no idea what I was going to do.
“My bus arrived at the old train station in Auckland, and a Navy bus arrived. When we got on the bus, there was dead silence – no one wanted to talk.
“Later, before signing on the line, things were calm and collected. As soon as everyone had signed, the orders started.
“Dad had told me what it would be like. First night, everyone was a bit quiet, trying to find their place. We had quite a big intake, 120. Dad said to me, ‘Stay for the whole thing. See it out. See what you think about it later.’”
“Later” turned out to be a long series of adventures, although being an engineer could be tough.
“In the Leander days, we would have to stay behind while the crew went ashore, to work on the ship. That was the leadership style – that’s your job, make it happen. And we would get the ship to sea.”
He has been to a lot of countries, with a highlight being at Bougainville during the peace talks. He remembers taking out a boat with the Chief of Navy Rear Admiral Fred Wilson and the Papua New Guinea Prime Minister, Michael Somare, for a fishing jaunt.
“The bloody boat broke down, then it rained on us. The admiral looked at me and said, ‘What’s happening?’ ‘It’s smoking, sir,’ I replied.”
Rugby has been a big part of his career and once, while coach of RNZN Rugby, he spent three months coaching the Chinese People’s Liberation Army rugby team.
“It’s a great way to form a relationship with another country’s military.”
This year, as assistant rugby coach for the NZDF, he will be especially busy, choosing the NZDF team to play in Japan at the International Defence Rugby World Cup.
Today, Warrant Officer Marine Technician Ratu is the Fleet Damage Control Instructor for the Maritime Operations Evaluation Team.
“I thoroughly enjoy it,” he said. “I like training, mentoring, coaching.”
The tough side of his 30 years in the RNZN has been the time away but the support of his family has made it possible.
“HMNZS Te Mana’s drills and exercises last year meant seven weeks out of the office. It never gets easy. My son is 23, my daughter is 28 – she was born on my 21st birthday.
“Family has to be a huge support network. This job doesn’t exist without family support.”