- Kingsley Perry
- Book reviews, Biographies, Biographies and personal histories, History - WW1
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Australia I
- June 2021 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Mutineers – A True Story of Heroes and Villains. Paperback of 320 pages by Robert Hadler, published by Wilkinson Publishing Pty Limited, Victoria 3000. Available from booksellers, rrp $28.75.
The author admits to being passionate about Australian history, and it is clear that he has put this passion to good use in writing this book. He used the pandemic-induced isolation to settle into a pattern of thorough research on the internet and telephone, aided later by personal attendance at libraries, museums and archives. One should expect a lot of information about this true story of mutineers. Expectations are met here.
HMAS Australia (I) was a battlecruiser, the flagship of the Royal Australian Navy during the First World War. During the war she sailed many thousands of miles and was involved in some minor incidents in and around the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, but was not actively involved in any wartime fighting operations. She returned to Australia in June 1919 after some five years overseas. Her first port of call was Fremantle. This is where the mutiny occurred, which is, of course, the main feature of the book.
Before dealing with the details of the mutiny, the author takes us on an interesting journey around the world onboard Australia during the years of the war, and then after the mutiny, into the realms of politics and naval discipline.
On the morning of 1 June 1919, the day that the ship was to depart Fremantle for Adelaide, a large group of sailors tried to delay the departure by shutting down the boiler room operations. They wanted to stay in port one more day to respond the kindness shown to them by the people of Fremantle. Their attempt failed, but it led to an unprecedented chain of events and controversies.
Although many were involved, five sailors were identified as ringleaders and faced court martial. Others were dealt with summarily. The five faced court martial in Sydney on 20 June 1919 (after the ship had visited Adelaide and Melbourne on the way). They pleaded guilty, and by lunchtime were sentenced to imprisonment for periods ranging from one year to two years. And so, in less than three weeks since the mutiny, the courts martial were completed. Issues then came to light, however, that led to these sentences being reduced such that the men were released just before Christmas.
These issues arose from the perceived unfair different standards applied between officers and sailors onboard, the harsh punishments handed out for breaches of naval discipline, the relationship between Royal Navy and RAN sailors, the links between the senior officers in the Australia and the Naval Board, and between the Naval Board and Admiralty. The resignation of two senior officers added to the crisis. These aspects were then highlighted by differing views held by the federal government and the Labor opposition, the role of the Admiralty and Whitehall, the upcoming election, the attitudes of the media and, of course, public opinion. Examination of these provides a fascinating insight into Australian life in the post-war years.
We are also taken into the lives of the five mutineers. One of these stands out, however, and receives the most attention. Dalmorton (Dal) Rudd seems to have been the main ringleader, although not identified as such at the court martial. He was an acknowledged war hero, having been awarded a DSM for his valour in the Zeebrugge raid in April 1918. He was also later considered for a VC for his part in this. Descriptions of the lives of the five (and some others, including the officers) after that war and into and after the Second World War (including service in that war) show us how lives in Australia were lived so differently from those in our more recent and relatively peaceful times.
As a work of Australian naval and general history, this book is highly recommended. It is well written, with good endnotes and index. Although quite detailed, it is an easy read. The extent of the research is impressive, and one gets a vivid impression of life at sea in a warship during the First World War. One can also get deeply involved in the drama of the mutiny and the court martial, and be left wondering whether the processes that were adopted were really appropriate in the circumstances and whether justice was eventually served.
Reviewed by Kingsley Perry
Note: A review of Robert Hadler’s book Dark Secrets – The true story of murder in HMAS Australia (in 1943) appears in the Naval Historical Review, March 2021 edition