2014 has been marked by many important anniversaries for the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), including the 50th anniversary of the collision between HMAS Melbourne and HMAS Voyager, and the centenaries of the arrival of our first submarine squadron, the commencement of World War I and the RAN’s first battle (and victory) at sea in the Battle of Cocos.
With hundreds of ships, and hundreds of thousands of people, having served in the RAN over more than a century, the responsibility for capturing, preserving and promoting Australia’s rich naval history falls upon the Naval History Section (NHS), a part of the Sea Power Centre – Australia (SPC-A) in Canberra.
Senior Naval Historian John Perryman leads a small team that collects and records the histories of each ship, boat, submarine, squadron and base of the RAN in order to honour the legacy of those that have come before, and so that we can learn from the many lessons acquired, some of them at a high cost.
“Reviewing and recording the histories of former ships of the RAN is just one of the many jobs of the Navy History Section.
“In amongst attempting to capture everything that is happening now, my team and I are constantly looking backwards to write about and promote the amazing stories that the Navy has to tell,” Mr Perryman said.
Preserving this information is a complex job with lots of moving parts, and marrying the official records with the personal stories of the sailors is equally challenging.
“With the ‘Reports of Proceedings’ we get the Commanding Officer’s perspective, but more substance to the story is added by providing the perspective of each member-regardless of whether they were Commanding Officer, Petty Officer or Seaman.
“This was perhaps best expressed by the original officer-in-charge of the then Naval Historical Records Section who said ‘each man is concerned only with his own job; but in doing it, he is perhaps seeing things which no other person sees,” Mr Perryman said.
With its extensive records the Naval History Section is able to provide key information in support of commemorative events, and makes much of that information available to researchers and other members of the public.
“In 2013 our team received over 600 written enquiries, along with telephone queries, ministerial requests and requests to host researchers who wish to view our archives.
“The main bulwark to showcase the history of the RAN, and to get it out into the public domain, is the RAN History webpage, where people can find a growing repository of the written history of the Navy,” Mr Perryman said.
The RAN History webpage also features backgrounds of the many of the unique and important customs and traditions of the Navy, such as the Red Kangaroo that is featured on all RAN ships, awards like the Duke of Gloucester Cup and the daily ‘Colours’ and ‘Sunset’ ceremonies.
“The beauty of the web is that members of the public can read about the various aspects of our history, while integrated multimedia allows them to explore the visual history, such as seeing ‘Colours’ and ‘Sunset’ in action,” Mr Perryman said.
“There is much to be learned from the lessons of the past and the members of the Navy History Section agree that ‘those who preserve conquer.’”
Those interested in Naval history are invited to view a growing collection of detailed historical information about the ships, boats, aircraft, bases, people, customs and traditions of the RAN at http://www.navy.gov.au/history.
Imagery is available at http://images.navy.gov.au/S20141639.