Meet The Locals: The Legend of Libby Pearce

After an illustrious career, including publishing her book, The ABC of Royal Australian Navy Corvettes, local Libby Pearce, 27, is now living in Singleton and studying psychology at Newcastle University.

I caught up with her to find out how she is settling back into Singleton.

Welcome home, Libby! What are your recollections of growing up in Singleton?

Wherever I am, Singleton has always felt like home. I loved my childhood and adored having such a large family. I was one of six. As a girl I was involved in Singleton’s dance community, where I took classes in everything from ballet, tap, to jazz. I even tried Irish dancing at one stage! My childhood dream was to become a professional dancer and travel the world but that wasn’t how life panned out.

How did you transition from wanting to be a dancer to joining the Navy?

I wanted to have a gap year between school and university. Then, when I was Year 12, both the Army and Navy came to my high school to recruit students into their gap year programs. It sounded like an amazing opportunity. I could join for one year, get paid, learn new skills as well as travel. Mum was incredibly supportive of the idea. Coming from an army town, I opted to try something different so I joined the Navy. My dad likes to tell a story that before I joined the Navy, the largest ship I’d be on was the Stockton Ferry in Newcastle! Every couple of months, I’d undertake a new experience. Some highlights were when I was stationed on HMS Albatross in Nowra and undertook Operation Resolute on HMAS Tobruk in the seas around the top of Australia. I felt a natural affinity to the Navy. There was so much opportunity and so much to learn. Six months into the program, I got a place at the University of Newcastle to study nursing. However, I knew I wasn’t ready to come home. I ended up staying in the Navy for a further eight years.

From landlocked Singleton to the high seas! What did you specialise in?

When I was in the Navy, I specialised in Communications and Information Systems, which included learning radio operations, communicating with other ships via flags and Morse code. Every year to two years, I was posted to a different role within the communications field. In 2018, I was posted into the Sea Power Centre Australia in Canberra as a web page administrator in the Navy’s history section. It started me on my naval history journey. I didn’t have a great knowledge of Naval history, but I was in a team where everyone was so knowledgeable and welcoming. It fuelled my passion.

And what a journey! Can you tell us about it?

One of my first tasks was to update the 56 pages about the Royal Australian Navy Corvettes. The Navy has a great collection of imagery of the Corvettes. A symbol of World War II, 60 ships had been commissioned by the Navy and proudly built in Australia between 1940 and 1944. The Corvettes were named after Australian regional towns and, largely, crewed by Reservists, so the stories of everyday people were fascinating. I’d be telling whoever would listen all of the interesting things that I had found out. So much so, that everyone knew that if they needed a question answered about Corvettes, that I would be the one to ask.

Did Singleton have a ship named after it?

No, sadly not, the closest we have is HMAS Cessnock (J175). I felt lucky that I could go into work and look at these historic photographs that barely anybody had seen. I then discovered the story of each of the ship and its crew in Naval archives. Then I was asked if I wanted to produce a book as I was so passionate about telling the stories. I liked that the stories connected the Navy with regional Australia. Between January and June in 2019, I had to compile the images and then write the supporting information. The book was launched at the 2019 Sea Power Conference by Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Michael Noonan.

It resulted in you receiving an official commendation from the Chief of Navy in recognition for your research and hard work to bring the book to publication. That must have been a very proud moment for you?

My mum, stepdad, younger sisters and my grandparents were invited to the launch at a Naval history conference. They hadn’t realised how big a deal it was until they heard the Chief of Navy talking about my book. Then I spoke about why I was so thrilled to tell these stories. It was a complete surprise when they presented me with a commendation and a framed cover of the book, featuring the original artwork painted by a Naval artist.

After all that adventure, how are you finding being home in Singleton?

I left the Navy in February and moved home to Singleton, which is great as I get to be near my family. Now I am studying psychological science at the University of Newcastle. I can see the town’s infrastructure changing such as John Street has been upgraded. One thing that hasn’t changed though is the community spirit and the friendliness of the people. I’m not quite sure where I’ll end up at this stage but I do know that Singleton will always be home.

Thanks for chatting to me, Libby. You can find out more about the book here.

Photo credit: Navy Daily

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