- Rivett, Norman C
- History - general
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- December 1990 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Some time in the middle of May, 1970 a news item appeared in the ‘Garden Island Information Bulletin’ informing readers that a lunch break meeting was to be held in the Amenities Building, the original Garden Island Post Office, located at the northern end of the Rigging Shed; to discuss the formation of a Naval Historical Society.
This news item was inserted by Mr Lew Lind, the Public Relations Officer, who was also the Editor of the Bulletin.
It was significant that this meeting which was to see the birth of a Society with members world-wide was held beside the berth where HMAS KUTTABUL was sunk in the Japanese midget submarine attack in 1942.
Such lunch-time meetings were not uncommon at Garden Island and were usually the harbinger of trouble – the dockyard was a militant trade union centre at the period. The proposed meeting sounded pleasantly different inviting anyone with an interest in naval history to attend and bring their lunch with them.
In company with a long time colleague, Mr Bill Nelson, a former fellow seafarer, we made our way to the meeting shortly after 12 noon. We ate our lunch on the way to the meeting. The Amenities Building was reasonably filled and all available seats were occupied so we stood.
The audience was a fairly predictable group, mostly former sailors and quite a number from the United Kingdom. Naval history was not a strong subject in Australia at the time. Also present were a number of old soldiers, Major Bill Martin ex British Army and the Chairman, Mr Lew Lind, to mention but two. The Royal Navy was represented by Lieutenant Commander Peter Churchill, Lieutenant Ron Atwill and Mr Alan Payne. I can remember only one former Royal Australian Navy officer, Commander George Knox. Dockyard officers present were Mr Gavin Cashman, Captain of the Port’s Administrative Office, Graham Muir, Personnel and from the Mechanical Drawing Office, Dave McDonald and John Brennan. In all some 40 people, all with an interest in history.
Mr Lew Lind occupied the chair and addressed the meeting on the need for an organisation to collect, record and disseminate naval history. He emphasised the importance of raising the Navy’s public image in the wake of the adverse media attacks following the two destroyer sinkings after collisions with HMAS MELBOURNE. Mr Lind was strongly supported by Mr Gavin Cashman. It is interesting to note that the two speakers were the only people present with experience in historical societies. Both were Vice Presidents of their district societies.
The meeting started with the usual wisecracks and chatter which was characteristic of meetings at Garden Island but the two speakers who were held in high esteem soon captured the interest of all present. A measure of the success of the speakers was the carrying of a motion to form The Garden Island Naval Historical Society, the election of interim officers, fixing of a subscription rate and the recording of the names of all who were interested in becoming members. All this was achieved in 40 minutes. Before the meeting closed an officer of the Garden Island Sporting and Social Club presented a cheque for $50 to meet foundation costs.
Not everyone present at the initial meeting joined the Society but my number was 24 which indicates more than half paid their first subs.
In hindsight I feel the Garden Island Sporting and Social Club considered their donation was a sound investment. The Society was to outlive its first benefactor.
The fledgling society enjoyed immediate success under the enthusiastic President and his first Committee. Within the year its name was changed to The Naval Historical Society of Australia which had been the objective of the founder from the beginning.
I feel it is important for all organisations to remember their origins. Without the Garden Island base it is doubtful that it would have enjoyed its remarkable success. The benign attitude and support of successive General Managers of Garden Island Naval Dockyard over 20 years and the fact that the President for 18 years was the base Public Relations Officer were contributing factors to this success.
There is a tendency today to grow away from Garden Island – in 1990 we transferred our monthly meeting venue to Maritime Headquarters – but I feel the Society still requires close contact with its natal home.