Pelagia Markogiannakis is what many people would call a trailblazer. She has not only had an extensive career as a Lieutenant Commander in the Australian Defence Forces (ADF), but she has also worked for former Governor of NSW, Peter Sinclair, and is now Director of Infrastructure Operations for Amazon Web Services (Australia & New Zealand).
Through it all, she’s had the support and love of her Spartan – Cretan family and this becomes especially clear during her ‘Kazzie Connect’ digital talk on November 11, which was organised by the Kastellorizian Association of Victoria.
During the event, which was in conversation with Freda Miriklis, Pelagia spoke openly about her connection to her Greek family and of course, shared what they thought of her decision to join the ADF.
“I always wanted to join the navy. The sea calls to me. I think my sense of adventure was why I wanted to join,” Pelagia said.
“I wanted to join as soon as I finished high school but I was 16 so dad says, ‘let’s make a deal.’ The deal was I could go to uni and then I could do whatever I wanted. So that’s what we did.”
‘Didn’t think it was possible’:
In the years that followed as a Lieutenant Commander in the navy, Pelagia contributed to Australia’s efforts during the Gulf War and also travelled to Gallipoli on the HMAS Tobruk for the 75th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign.
The journey itself took six months and included a stop-over at Piraeus port in Athens, Greece, which Pelagia remembers fondly.
“We were coming into Piraeus, I got out of my dirty overalls, had a shower, put my uniform on and went up to the bridge and the captain said to me, ‘call the Pireaus pilots, tell them where we are, ask them where they need us to pick them up so we can get into port’,” Pelagia explains with a laugh.
“So I get on the blower [radio] and say in Greek, ‘this is the Australian navy ship HMAS Tobruk, come in please’ and you can hear them in the background talking Greek like ‘someone’s pulling our leg.’
“I’m thinking, ‘oh God I don’t want the captain to find out’ so I get back on to the radio and say in Greek, ‘this is the Australian navy ship HMAS Tobruk, come in please and quickly because otherwise my captain will learn that you don’t know what’s happening.’
“All of sudden, it’s like a scramble. You can hear the microphone being jostled, they gave me the coordinates and we went to the station to pick them up.
“They didn’t think it was possible for a Greek speaking woman to be on an Australian warship.”
Breaking glass ceilings:
This is just one of many glass ceilings broken by Pelagia over her entire career.
In fact, during the Kazzie Connect discussion, Pelagia also speaks proudly of becoming the first female to ever hold the position of Aide-de-Camp in Waiting to the Office of His Excellency the Governor of NSW.
“I get a call from the naval poster [about the job]… and he told me, ‘just so you know a woman’s never done the job so you haven’t really got a chance of getting the job. But if you want to put in for it, we’d really like to see your application’,” she says.
“After he hung up, I rang my dad and said, ‘dad this has happened’ and he goes, ‘what are you going to do?’ and I said, ‘I’m going to apply for it. I haven’t got a good chance of getting it anyway but I’m going to apply for it, what have I got to lose?'”
The rest, as they say, is history.
Pelagia was offered the job and although she was initially going to turn it down as she had recently bought an apartment in Sydney and was yet to finish her Masters thesis, Governor Sinclair convinced her to take it on.
Two years later, when Governor Sinclair retired, Pelagia moved on to work at other companies such as Shell and AGL Energy before moving to her current role at Amazon Web Services in 2021.
Now, she says she’s happy to continue learning and growing and encourages other people who want to pursue a similar career path as her to ‘never give up.’
“There is nothing you can’t do. Ever. You’ve got to do your best. Be the best you can be. Be true to yourself. Yes, you’ll question yourself. Yes, you’ll fail at things. But you know what, fail fast and move on and learn,” Pelagia stresses.
“Don’t ever, ever, ever give up and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. Whatever it is.”