Pirate or navy: which one are you?

Are you pirate…

Are you Pirate or Navy? When my friend Kate asked me this question last week, my response was “…[blink]…” because I had no clue what she meant. Apparently, most of us can be divided into these two groups. Pirate people are risk-takers, adventurers, renegades. Navy people are obedient, law-abiding, organised and controlled. They like order. In fact, they live for it. If you’re navy, you ask for permission. Pirates ask for forgiveness.

Julia Gillard? Navy. Tony Abbott? Pirate. Bob Katter? Pirate. Rob Oakshot? Navy. Lisa Wilkinson? Navy. Karl Stefanovic? Pirate. Mark Zuckerberg? Pirate. Bill Gates? Navy.

This is a fun game and I suggest you try it at home. What’s not to love about putting big complex people in simple little boxes?


At the height of Queensland’s flood crisis, my friend Kate’s husband Jim jumped into his work boots and went down to a nearby flooded area to offer his assistance. “Nah, mate” said a police officer.  “There’s nothing you can do right now. You should go home.” So he did. Because he’s Navy.

… or navy?

That evening, Jim noticed his neighbours arriving next door covered in mud. They’d headed to the same area that morning and, ignoring similar instructions to go home, had instead gone to the local Bunnings and bought official-looking fluoro vests. Then they launched a borrowed tinny and motored around flooded streets helping evacuate people and animals. At one point, police rescue services ordered them to leave. “Only authorised personnel and residents are allowed in this area” they were told. But they simply took their boat a few streets away and kept going. Pirates.

So where did this Pirate/Navy concept come from? Kate first became familiar with it in the 90s at an advertising agency whereshe worked as a copywriter. On the wall was a framed, handwritten note from an American advertising guru that said: Remember, The Pirates Have More Fun Than The Navy.

“It was like the agency motto,” she explained to me. “It encouraged us to do things differently. Break the rules. ‘Disruption’ was the word du decade.”

That night, Kate emailed me the famous award-winning Apple ad from 1997 that embodied this idea. It featured footage of iconic 20th century personalities including Albert Einstein, Bob Dylan, Martin Luther King, Jr., Richard Branson, John Lennon , Muhammad Ali, Ted Turner, Maria Callas, Mahatma Gandhi, Amelia Earhart, Alfred Hitchcock, and Pablo Picasso with a voice-over that said:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” Ah, Pirates, all of them.


That’s not to say it’s bad to be Navy. There is no implicit criticism in either label and the world needs both of them to be a functioning, interesting place. We can’t all be renegades. Someone has to make sure the trains run on time and the health system works (OK, maybe that’s a bad example).

Still, if asked to choose, most people will declare themselves Pirate. Including me. “Oh, I’m totally Pirate” I told Kate. Yep. Swash-buckling, courageous, exciting, a bit naughty, running with the fast crowd. I’ll have me some of that. I mean I’ll BE that. I AM that. Kate raised one eyebrow. “Really?” she said. “I asked which one you were not who you’d like to see naked.” Oh. Right.

If you’re also thinking Pirate, not so fast.  You’re probably thinking of your past. Or, like me, Johnny Depp in a ripped shirt. You may well have been a Pirate when you were 22. Hell yeah, most of us were. But generally we become more Navy as we grow older. Pirate-y behaviour isn’t really compatible with a mortgage and that PowerPoint presentation you have to finish over the weekend.  Let alone kids.

There are exceptions of course. I have one Pirate friend who emailed this reply to my question: “I’ve always had a problem with authority. I was a naughty teenager, got a tattoo when I was 16, and I might or might not have been arrested at some point. At 30, I’ve mellowed out but I find the parrot still sitting on my shoulder occasionally. I don’t like waiting at lights to cross the road, often crossing on the red signal EVEN in front of small children (my husband says this is setting a bad example). You’ll also find me running red lights, parking in no stopping zones, lying to get out of said parking tickets, buying concession bus tickets or no ticket and feigning sunstroke to jump the queue for the loo at a music festival.” Whoa man. That’s rad.

The last word goes to my wise friend Bec: “Pirate or Navy? Which one gets to not cook and instead watches loads of crap TV? Cause I’m that one.” Aye, me hearties. Me too.

Check out our gallery of “Pirate” Johnny Depp in all his incarnations