Traditions and customs are the foundations of the strong bonds between sailors, officers and their ships, so it is only fitting that the Royal Australian Navy collects, maintains and displays the items that chronicle its heritage.
Commander Alex Hawes, Director of the Navy Heritage Collection, is keenly aware of the significance of the collection that holds some 500,000 pieces.
“Some are aircraft, some are teacups, but all of them are important in their own way.
“Displaying key parts of our collection maintains the ethos and intent of supporting the fleet by keeping the heritage of Navy alive,” Commander Hawes said.
The Navy Heritage Collection maintains three public museums that showcase some of the most important pieces - the Navy Heritage Centre at Garden Island in Sydney, the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Nowra, New South Wales, and the Museum of HMAS Cerberus near Point Crib in Victoria.
Situated in parklands on the eastern point of Garden Island, the Royal Australian Navy Heritage Centre is the centrepiece display, housed in an historic building that is also part of Navy's long history on Garden Island.
“Before the Navy Heritage Centre opened in 2005, it was the home of the Fleet Intermediate Maintenance Authority.
“When the Heritage Centre was stood up, the ‘pride of the fleet’ of Navy heritage was put on display.
“We have on display the conning tower of one of the three Japanese submarines that penetrated Sydney Harbour in 1944,” Commander Hawes said.
Other items displayed include pieces from conflicts and operations that the Royal Australian Navy has participated in, as well as memorabilia from the generations of women and men who have served.
Some items are sobering reminders of the courage and sacrifice of various officers and sailors, such as the captain's chair from the bridge of HMAS Australia (II) - the chair in which Captain Emile Dechaineux died during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
Displayed alongside the captain’s chair is an engine block from the Japanese dive bomber that crashed into Australia’s bridge, in a pre-cursor attack to the kamikaze campaign that commenced four days later.
Visitors to the Navy Heritage Centre at Garden Island can enjoy lunch or a snack in the Salthorse Cafe, or take a stroll in colonial gardens and see the earliest known graffiti in Australia - believed to have been carved by sailors from the 1788 First Fleet.
Access to the Navy Heritage Centre is by ferry from Circular Quay.
Occupying a 6000 square metre hanger adjacent to HMAS Albatross in Nowra, New South Wales, the Fleet Air Arm Museum chronicles the history of naval aviation in Australia and beyond.
Visitors to the museum can explore aircraft such as A4G Skyhawk fighters operated from Australia’s last aircraft carrier, HMAS Melbourne (II), as well as Iroquois and Sioux helicopters that were flown in the Royal Australian Navy Helicopter Flight Vietnam and Cold-War era Soviet MiG fighters.
The Fleet Air Arm Museum has a cafe and viewing platform from which visitors can observe flight operations at Albatross’ airfield.
Formerly known as the Flinders Naval Depot, HMAS Cerberus is the focal point of Navy recruit sailor training, and has been an important part of the Mornington Peninsula community since the 1920s.
The Museum of HMAS Cerberus highlights the many stories of sailor training in the Royal Australian Navy, including initial recruit training and specialised training in various ‘rate’ qualifications.
The collection exhibits artefacts from the pre-Federation Victorian and Colonial navies, including displays relating to the Colonial era iron-clad HMVS Cerberus for which the base is named.
This year marks the centenary of the commencement of World War I in 1914 - the first international engagement for the fledgling Australian Navy.
Lieutenant Commander Desmond Woods, Navy Staff Officer for Centenary of Anzac, stresses the important role that the Navy Heritage Collection plays in the upcoming commemorations.
“The Navy’s vital role during World War One is often overlooked by those who know only of Gallipoli in 1915 and Australia’s contribution to the land victories in Palestine and on the Western Front.
“The Royal Australian Navy was engaged throughout the war in essential operations in New Guinea, the Indian Ocean, the Dardanelles, the Adriatic and the North Sea.
“The Naval Heritage Collection preserves the tangible reminders of that period a century ago when the Navy and the Nation it served were still very young,” said Lieutenant Commander Woods.
For information about visiting the Navy Heritage Collection’s museums, please visit http://www.navy.gov.au/history/navy-museums.
Imagery is available on the Royal Australian Navy Image Library at http://images.navy.gov.au/S20141389.