However, the veteran of numerous postings to various bases and ships, his latest at HMAS Creswell as officer in charge of the RAN School of Survivability and Ship Safety, won’t be totally lost to the navy.
He is remaining in the Navy Reserve, no longer a member of the permanent navy force, and will perform his same role at the Jervis Bay base as a reservist.
Lt Cunningham was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. He immigrated to Australia with his parents John and Agnes Cunningham “as a 10 pound Pom” at the age of 12.
They arrived in Sydney on December 26, 1968. He grew up in Newcastle, attending Broadmeadow High School and attained year 10 prior to joining the navy at 16-and-a-half years of age.
He joined the RAN as a junior recruit at HMAS Leeuwin in 1972 and after initial training was posted to HMAS Cerberus, where he completed his training.
What followed were postings to HMAS Swan, Nirimba, Torrens and Kuttabul, where he was the technical officer writer to General Manager Garden Island Dockyard (GMGID).
In 1985 he was promoted to Petty Officer on HMAS Torrens and Parramatta before being posted to HMAS Cerberus and promoted to chief.
There were further postings to HMAS Nirimba and Labuan. His next posting, in September
1995, was to the Directorate of Sailors Career Management, where he was in charge of all
He was promoted to Warrant Officer in 1996, put in charge of all personnel in the Marine Technical Career area, looking after more than 5500 personnel.
He returned to HMAS Cerberus in 1996 and in 1999 was given a position as facility manager of the School of Survivability and Ship Safety. In that role, he undertook the US International Surface Warfare Officer Damage Control Assistant Course at Rhode Island.
He took his commission in 2008 after 36 years of service and his first posting as an officer was to the Amphibious Afloat Support Group (ASSG) HRM position. In 2010, he was posted to the School of Survivability and Ship Safety.
In his present role he is in charge of the three schools at HMAS Creswell, Cerberus and Stirling.
“I see that new recruits are taught about firefighting, leak stoppage and repairs on ships, as well as combating chemical, biological and possible nuclear attacks,” he said.
“All personnel and new officers undertake the standard combat survivability course over five days.
“From there they progress to the advanced two-week combat and survivability course which all personnel have to undertake during their time in the navy.
“It has been an amazing journey, but it is not over yet.”
He said he had seen many changes in the navy during his 40 years.
“I think the most significant change I have seen has been in comradeship,” he said.
“We used to all be on board or on ships all the time and the comradeship was there. We were all in it together all the time – a real team.
“Then came the time when personnel didn’t live on board anymore and many moved ashore and we lost that comradeship. It came back once we were all back on ship and had all the team together, but we just lost that connection.
“The other major change has been the new-generation navy – looking at the new generation and changing to reflect that.”
He said there had been many highlights, including being part of the HMAS Torrens crew that acted as escort ship for the Royal Britannia when it was in Australia.
“Some of us got the opportunity to undertake a tour of the yacht which was brilliant,” he said.
“We even got to meet the Queen, which for a UK original, was magic.
“She is just what you see on television. She was lovely and on the yacht, which is just like her home, she was so relaxed.”
Another highlight was attending the US International Surface Warfare Officer Damage Control Assistant Course at Rhode Island.
“It was a three-month course and I was the only Aussie among 12 participants from around the world,” he said.
“It was a good insight as to how other navies worked.
“I just can’t get enough of navy life – I love it.
“Apart from three or four months when I worked at an abattoir in Newcastle, prior to joining the navy in 1972, it has been my life.
“If they offered me a place on board a ship tomorrow I’d take it. I love the open sea.
“And as for Creswell, it’s a pretty hard place to work. But, seriously, you couldn’t ask for a better depot to work in.”
Lt Cunningham is married to Margaret and they have two children, Elissa and Luke, who have followed in their father’s footsteps, joining the navy.