- Letter Writer
- Biographies and personal histories, Obituaries
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 2000 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
“To achieve the marvellous,” wrote Tom Robbins, “it is precisely the unthinkable that must be thought”. When a 24 year-old school teacher from Capel in Western Australia went by train across the continent to join a “man’s Navy”, many must have thought: “Barbara Denise MacLeod, what you are doing is unthinkable.” At the very least, a life in the Navy of 1953 was an ill-regarded career choice for a young woman.
MacLeod, who has died aged 70, was born in Bunbury, WA.
For the next 30 years, “BD”, as she will affectionately be remembered, dedicated herself to ensuring that women could have a fair and proper place in the Navy, shaping the careers and futures of hundreds who served in the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS).
Perhaps her greatest achievement was winning over those who tried to limit women’s careers to the WRANS alone. She achieved what she probably considered her birthright: to serve fully in the Australian Defence Force.
Her no-nonsense approach to life, her integrity and courage, and her belief in hard work blazed a trail for many young women of the Navy to follow. That is, follow if they were strong enough and brave enough. She was no easy act to follow.
Her look could freeze at 50 paces, her voice could have a young woman trembling in trepidation, and her criticism, always well founded, could cut to the bone.
But for all the “toughness” there was tenderness too – she loved people and gave her all for the “Navy family”. In return she was liked, loved, admired – even feared by a few – but respected by all. BD knew that the road for those 300 or so women who were to join the WRANS in the 1950s and ’60s was never going to be easy.
The one constant who fought to achieve better status, worthwhile careers and a level playing field for women was BD. Her generosity of spirit, her strong moral code and her genuine belief in the equality of women eventually became an acclaimed asset for all who served in Australia’s Navy.
That she was elevated to the position of WRANS director and later director of naval industrial policy as a full member of the Royal Australian Navy are real achievements in the advancement of the status of women in the ADF.
Without these steps, we would never have come so far along the path to equality as we have, with women now serving in all but one area of the Navy.
After retiring, BD took a very active role in the community life of Mollymook, on the south coast of NSW. She was a keen sports lover. Golf became a passion in her middle years, presumably giving her pleasure because it was one of those few things in her life that could not be directed, ordered, inspected and disciplined.
At MacLeod’s funeral, her sister Officer Commander Susan Jones used the words of the American writer Maya Angelou to summarise MacLeod’s approach to life:
“A woman should be tough but tender, laugh as much as possible, live a long life. The struggle for equality continues unabated, and the woman warrior who is armed with wit and courage will be among the first to celebrate victory.”
MacLeod is survived by her brother John and sister-in-law Rosemary.
Andrew Stackpool, The Sydney Morning Herald 1.2.00