- First World War (1914-18), Second World War (1939-45), Vietnam War (1962-73), New Zealand War (1860-66), Boer War (South Africa) (1899-1902), Boxer Rebellion, China (1900-01), Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) (1947-1951), UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (1948-1985), Malayan Emergency (1948-60), UN Commission on Korea (1950), Korean War (1950-53), UN Observer group in Lebanon (1958), The Congo (1960-1964), Yemen Observer Mission (1963-1964), Indonesian Confrontation (1963-66), Cyprus (1964-2017), India-Pakistan Observation Mission (1965-1966), Rhodesia (1979-1980), Sinai, Egypt (1982-86, 93-), Namibia (1989-90), Uganda (1982-1984), Iraq-Iran Military Observers (1988-1991), UN Mine Clearance Training Team, Peshawar, Pakistan (1989-1993), First Gulf War (1990-91), Cambodia (1991-93), Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia (1992), Somalia (1992-94), Rwanda (1994), Haiti (1994-95), Mozambique (1994-2002), Guatemala (1997), Bougainville, Papua New Guinea (1997-2003), East Timor (1999-2005, 2009), Solomon Islands (2000-2003), Sierra Leone (2000-2003), Ethiopia and Eritrea (2001-2013), Afghanistan (2001-21), Iraq (2003-2009)
- Navy, Peacekeeping operations
Join Naval Historian John Perryman for a journey through time from colonial naval days to contemporary operations in the Middle East as he discusses the evolution of naval uniforms, badges and accoutrements. Learn how changing operating environments, climate and even religion have all influenced changes to naval uniform at sea, ashore and in the air.
John Perryman joined the Royal Australian Navy in January 1980 and during a career in communications spanning almost 25 years he attained the rank of Warrant Officer before commissioning as a Lieutenant in 2001.
In November 2004, John left the permanent navy to take up a position in the Naval History Section, Sea Power Centre – Australia. John is the current Director of Strategic & Historical Studies, co-author of Australia’s Navy in Vietnam and author of Kit Muster, a study of the RAN’s uniforms, badges and categories from colonial times to 1953.
Leonie Pratt: Good evening, we'll get underway. What a wonderful, little intimate crowd we have, so thank you all for joining us. Good evening, my name is Leonie Pratt. I'm the Director of Community Engagement here at the Shrine and it's a pleasure to welcome you this evening. In the unlikely event of an emergency, we need to exit the auditorium, there's the door that you just came in, there is also an emergency exit here on your right. Please just follow the instructions of staff. Anyone got their mobile phones? Please check that they're at least on silent, and preferably turned off for the duration of this talk. Including myself.
I'd like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we gather today and pay respect to their elders both past and present, and also any indigenous joining us today. As is customary before all events at the Shrine let us take a moment to honour the service and the sacrifice of all Australians in serving our country. Those of you that are able, would you please stand for a short service of remembrance?
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning,
We will remember them.
Lest we forget.
Thank you, please be seated. I also extend a very special welcome to any past or present members of the Australian Defence Force, and on behalf of everyone gathered today, we thank you for your service.
It is a great pleasure to welcome tonight's guest speaker, Mr John Perryman. John joined the Royal Australian Navy in January 1980, aged sixteen. During a career in communications spanning almost 25 years, John attained the rank of Warrant Officer before commissioning as a Lieutenant in 2001. Throughout his service he saw much of the world, participating in numerous deployments that included operational service in Somalia, Bougainville and East Timor. In November 2004, John left the permanent Navy to take up the position in the Australian Public Service at the Sea Power Centre - Australia. John is the co-author of Australia's Navy in Vietnam, and author of Kit Muster: A Study of the RAN’s Uniforms, Badges and Categories from Colonial Times to 1953. John is also a regular contributor to a wide range of other historical publications and newsletters. Please join me in welcoming John to the stage as we explore the evolution of Navy uniforms.
John Perryman: Well, good evening, and thank you Leonie for the very warm introduction. It's always nice to come back to an institution such as the Shrine of Remembrance where, as a young civilian, I had my first visit here back in 1981. I've enjoyed being invited back on a number of times since, to participate in events such as this. I've met a few of you in the auditorium. I'm really happy with the size of this crowd because I actually think that we're going to have a fun time. I hope it's a fun time for you, and that you get something out of this presentation. I'll be very, very happy to answer any questions you may have afterwards, or if you've got any really burning ones, you can hit me up as we go along.
Although I've written about this, and I've been a collector of naval uniforms and badges for many, many years, I've never been asked previously to actually put together a presentation on this topic, and I thought,
Oh, this will be quite easy. I know quite a bit about this, and I've got lots of resources to draw on.’
But it wasn't until I actually got going that I realised how large this topic is, and let's just stop and think about it for a moment. You know, you have the navy with its many different categories and trades, you have an officers’ rank structure, you have a sailors’ rank structure. Then you have all these other moving parts and ancillaries, like the Women's Royal Australian Naval Service, the Nursing Service, the various components of the Naval Reserve, and blow me down, they all wore something different. So we have striven for uniformity from the outset, we've had lots of uniforms, but I would argue that we've never quite actually got there and achieved uniformity. But we do look good.
Ok, so this journey today, Bellbottoms and Lids, as the name suggests, we've got a sailor here and he served for World War Two, and there he is, dressed resplendent in his No.1, white uniform at HMAS Cerberus. You might note on the sundial there the three-headed dog, for those with observant eyes, that's still down at Cerberus, just waxing lyrical there, but he's wearing his bellbottom trousers and the cap on his head is colloquially referred to in the Navy as your lid. And if one had their lid lifted—you were in trouble, because when you got charged, it was ‘off caps.’ So, there we are.
I'm going to take you from the slide on the left, where we have a sailor in landing uniform around about the turn of last century. You can see that he's wearing what today would be considered a ceremonial uniform, and that was the uniform that most of their work was done in on a day-to-day basis. The only difference is 'You're going ashore Jack, here you go, here's your landing kit, off you go.' The slide on the right shows you the other side of the arc where this is where we've got to today, where we have a much more practical approach to the demands that are called on for the Navy. So, we're going to go from that to that, and it's not just a story about men. This is a story about the men and women who served in our naval forces.
On this slide you can see First Officer Blair Bowden on the left. This photograph was taken around about 1943. She's dressed in a khaki uniform and she's at HMAS Rushcutter in Sydney. She went on to become the first post-war director of the Women's Royal Australian Naval Service, but at those times their duties were pretty well confined to administrative-type duties, and they didn't operate in combat roles. The slide that we are looking at on the right here, we've got two of our contemporary women. The Officer at the top there is currently serving in the Middle East region and she's one of our pilots. And the young lady at the bottom here is in full boarding party uniform, so you can see that a lot has changed since World War Two.
Ok, so where did all this begin? Well, it all begins with Royal Naval dress and Australian naval dress descends directly from that worn by the Royal Navy in the late 19th Century. When the Naval Colonial Defence Act was passed in 1865 which permitted the Australian colonies to raise their own naval forces, officers of the Royal Navy had been wearing a standardised form of uniform for over 100 years, and in the case of men, uniform for Petty Officers, Seamen and Boys was formally established in 1857. Both officers and men of the Royal Navy dressed in their smart blue or white uniforms, as the case dictated, were recognisable the world over as belonging to the most powerful navy afloat. That was something that the new Colonial naval forces very much wanted to be a part of—who wouldn't want to look like the world's most powerful navy? Britain had enjoyed that since Nelson's victory, Trafalgar in 1805, and had commanded the sea ever since. So when the colonies first started looking at setting up their own little navies of course, who did they want to look like: the Royal Navy, and that made sense because we were a British settlement.
The Admiralty, however, who were responsible for the Royal Navy, they had other ideas, and they were concerned about legal aspects surrounding Australia's new naval forces and were adamant that colonial naval officers and men were not to wear uniforms that could not be distinguished from those of the Royal Navy. What they didn't want, they didn't want these colonial navies in the antipodes going off and misrepresenting Great Britain and causing them problems at a State level. So what happened was this: the colonies pretty well adopted the Royal Navy uniform but with some embellishments, and you can see here the officer on the left is a Commander in the South Australian Naval Forces, and you'll notice above his lace on his sleeve he's wearing two crossed anchors that's in lieu of the loop, which is known as the executive curl, and most of you would probably be familiar with naval uniform where you actually see that curl. The executive curl wasn't worn by all Officers. Originally, it was only worn by those Officers of the military branches. Supply Officers, Engineers, those type of officers they did not wear it. That came later and we'll cover that a little later in the presentation.
So the South Australians distinguished themselves with the crossed anchors. In the centre, we've got an Officer of the Queensland Marine Defence Force. He has the triangle above his rank lace, as his idiosyncrasy, and below that you can see the button of the Queensland Naval Forces with ‘Her Majesty's Queensland Navy’, HMQN on it. The sailor on the right there, well he's got the white stripe down the side of his pants. He's actually Victorian. Victorian Officers—here's an example of one here. At the top left there you can see an example of one of the buttons that was adopted by the Victorian Naval Forces with the ‘VN’ on it, and this gentleman looking very, very smart there in his cocked hat and full-dress epaulettes, examples of which we can see there on the right. A very, very impressive uniform.
In New South Wales they didn't put as much effort into it because the Royal Naval Squadron was in Sydney, so the Royal Navy ships were there with a large Royal Naval footprint, but nevertheless, they raised their own Naval Brigade. You can see some of those Signalmen here of the New South Wales Naval Brigade, and I can tell you now that they're actually spelling out ‘naval brigade’ using seven forehand fades, as a former Signalman. When I was writing my book Kit Muster, I was unaware that they'd actually instituted their own badges which had Naval Brigade New South Wales on them, and it was very, very timely that a gentleman in Sydney contacted me and said, 'I happen to have these badges in my collection.’ Here's an example of that. I've not seen any others so I imagine they're quite rare. Of course, there we have a naval, a New South Wales Naval Brigade button, which they also used to distinguish themselves from their Royal Naval counterparts.
By the early 1880s the uniform that popularised the sailor suit had evolved to seamen generally appearing in blue serge or white duck jumpers, frocks and bellbottom trousers. White duck was a very, very hard-wearing white linen-type material but it was known as duck. On frocks and jumpers a blue jean collar bearing three rows of white tape was worn, and contrary to popular belief the white tape in the rows of three did not actually commemorate Vice Admiral Lord Nelson's victories of the Nile, Copenhagen and Trafalgar. Even the United States and German navies adopted the same white tape, so I'm not quite sure how that came about. I think it's probably more for decorative purposes, but it seems to be an enduring theme in navies around the world, which is sort of interesting.
You can see this chap on the right here he looks like an old salt. He's wearing his frock, he's got a couple of campaign ribbons. You can see his collar quite clearly there is three rows of tape. He's got a Naval Reserve cap ribbon on. He could probably do with a beard trim, but apart from that he looks the goods. The Chief Petty Officer on the left there, he is wearing the cap badge that later became a Petty Officers’ badge. But that badge there was originally a Chief Petty Officer badge and the badge you see at the top left was the one that he would have worn on the arm of his tunic.
Federation. In 1900, Australia's federated, sorry 1901, and the colonial naval forces are swept up and become the Commonwealth Naval Forces on 1 March. There were no immediate changes to uniforms for a period. The CNF, as it was known, was consolidated in name only, and it wasn't until 1904 when Captain Cresswell, who you can see there on the left, was appointed as the Administrator that really, things began to get shaken up. One of the things that he determined was this, that the Commonwealth Naval Forces would adopt Royal Naval uniform to a large extent, and the Officers would all adopt the triangle worn by the Queensland Marine Defence Force which at that time he was the director of. So, he didn't have to change his uniform, which I imagine would have been pretty expensive back then as well. Here we've got two examples of officers of the Commonwealth Naval Forces.
For the Ratings, remember that a rating is some one who is not an Officer, they're not a Warrant Officer, they're someone who doesn't hold a warrant or a commission, so basically, sailors are known as Ratings. Petty Officers, men and boys, adopted the same uniform as that worn in the Royal Navy, with the exception that cap ribbons were lettered HMAS. Ok, now this is kind of interesting because the use of the HMAS actually predates the official granting of that privilege by King George V, but we see when HMA Ships Parramatta and Yarra come out in 1910 they're both referred to as HMAS, even though we hadn't yet been granted that Royal title. That's an interesting sort of observation.
Here we've got a Rating, he's Armourer's Mate. That's his rate badge there up the top left. You can see he's wearing that on his arm as well, and there he's got his easily identifiable naval uniform and cap ribbon HMAS Cerberus.
Now as I said, the granting of the Royal title in 1911, coupled with the arrival later of the Australian Fleet in October 1913, removed any lingering concerns the Admiralty held concerning Australian naval men wearing Royal Navy uniform, and in 1913 the RAN received approval to adopt the full range of uniforms in use by the RN, again with some minor embellishments which mainly boiled down to buttons and cap ribbons. Apart from that, the two navies by design were quite interchangeable, so it was not uncommon for Royal Navy personnel to be serving in the Australian Navy and Australian naval personnel to be serving in the Royal Navy.
Also in 1913, the Naval Dockyard Police were established to keep law and order, and here we can see a constable down at Cerberus. This is one of a handful of photos we've got of the early Naval Dockyard Police, and you can see there he's wearing the bobby-like hat on his head and this helmet plate that's on the right is an enlargement of that device. I've only ever seen one example of that, ever, and that's how we were able to create this image on the right here.
In 1913 the Royal Australian Navy Band was instituted. HMAS Australia our new flagship is in Britain, it's being finished off and completed, it's about to make its voyage out to Australia. Because it's going to be the flagship of the Royal Australian Navy and we modelled ourselves on the Royal Navy, it was a must that we have a band, so, a call for musicians was put out. Musicians were sent to England, and they were sent to train with the Royal Marines and they did quite well.
Then the question came up of course, about what will we wear? They quite liked the look of the Royal Marine uniform with their pith helmets and high collars, so they said, 'we'll wear a Royal Marine uniform, just like you.' Trouble is the Royal Marines, who have a very, very long and proud history said, 'no you won't, ok?' They didn't warm to the idea of these Colonials wearing their uniform, which had history going back to 1704 I think, so an agreement was made that they were permitted to wear a similar uniform, and the then naval representative in England, Captain Haworth-Booth, designed the cap badge. What he did is he took the button that had been approved for the Royal Australian Navy, and he used that as a central device with the cap badge, which you can see at the top left there, so you've got the Tudor Crown over what's known as a lazy anchor. See how it's tilted? They call that the lazy anchor, and that formed the central piece of cap badges, and also helmet plates for their pith helmets, and the central device of their belt lockets. That was for the band, that's a very early picture there and by all accounts that did quite well.
In 1914, as war clouds gathered, the rank of Lieutenant-Commander was introduced, taking its place in the hierarchical structure about Lieutenants and below Commanders. This saw the familiar half-stripe introduced between the existing rank lace worn by Lieutenants, and it did not take long for those serving in the lower deck, the ratings, to coin the term 'two and a half' to describe officers of that rank. I've chosen the top-left picture here because this is a Naval Reserve cuff lace. It's got all the ingredients that I wanted to discuss with you. It's got what's known as distinction cloth, which is the white between the lace. It's got the wavy lace of the Royal Australian Naval Reserve and that little half-lace in the middle is the Lieutenant-Commander’s rank that we're talking about.
The following year saw Engineering Officers granted use of the executive curl on the upper rank stripe. Remember earlier I was saying that Officers didn't automatically have the executive curl, which you can see over here on the cuff closest to me. In fact, they just wore the stripes but they had to cull. That was granted to all Officers in 1918. In fact, Engineer Officers and the others follow thereafter, not too long afterwards. The other one we've got here is the red of the Medical category. The red distinction cloth and orange distinction cloth and a salmon colour distinction cloth are the only distinction cloth still used in the Royal Australian Navy, for Dentists, Nursing Sisters and Surgeons, and the reason (for) that is they are still considered to be non-combatants, and that's the means of identifying them. Ok.
World War One: a couple of slides here. Prior to World War One, the boys’ training ship Tingira was commissioned and many of the Boys who trained in Tingira in Rose Bay in Sydney went on to serve in World War One. Here we've got a young naval rating from Tingira, you can see this has been colourised but it's a pretty good example of what your average Sailor looked like, or a young Boy Sailor looked like in World War One. World War One also saw our Fleet go and serve in the Northern Hemisphere, after taking care of business down in the Pacific and in German New Guinea, so these guys are all rugged up in duffle coats. They've got their inflatable life preservers round their coats and they're wearing very, very early anti-flash gear, so it's quite an interesting photo in that regard.
A couple of other World War One slides here. The Rating at the top left is, he looks the goods doesn't he, at HMAS Sydney. Very proud ship, proud crew, and again he's wearing the collar, the white front, you can see the blue tape across at his lanyard. Normally at the end of that lanyard was your seaman’s knife, and what that would do, it just drops into a pocket which was sewn on the inside of the jumper. Not many people know that. It actually had a very practical use. Ships’ mascots, they were all the rage back in the day. I didn't bring the koalas and the kangaroos, but I did bring Jack the dog from HMAS Swordsman who, albeit after World War One, sort of personifies the extent which naval uniform got to.
Then we've got my old mate Dinkum Minogue. This guy, if you've ever read Lofty Batts' Pioneers of the Royal Australian Navy, the adventures of this larrikin defy belief. He turns up everywhere, but he didn't just get around the ship in that rig because he wanted to. Coaling ship was a grubby, backbreaking all-ship evolution where everybody, with the exception of the Captain and I think the ship's Chaplain, were to shift into mufti rig and bend their backs coaling ship. So he is thinking there, his coaling gear is, you can see a pair of boots here in the background. Here we are. I'm not sure whether he's related to Kylie Minogue, but he was in the Dinkum Minogue Hobo Band, so there might be a connection there.
Now then, not all of the Royal Australian Navy's personnel went to war in navy blue. Members of the Royal Australian Naval Bridging Train and Engineering Unit served at Gallipoli and throughout the Middle East dressed in the olive-drab uniform of the First Australian Imperial Force. Their commanding officer however, Leighton Seymour Bracegirdle, saw the need to distinguish between the two forces and designed large stockless anchor badges to identify them as sailors. You can see here on the left, we've got Petty Officer Ben Thompson. You can see all his collars there. He's got the anchor badges and also on his hat, and then over on the other slide here we've got another Able Seaman. He's wearing a cap and you can see the anchor there also in the top left, that one, and the ‘NBT’ representing the Naval Bridging Train, which they wore on their shoulders. Other war units included the Royal Australian Naval Reserve Guard section, the Naval Wireless Service, the Naval Radio Service, in fact, that took over from the PMG and a lot of the Postmaster General people actually went into that and looked after our Naval Shore Wireless capability of World War One. Sea-service chevrons, they were introduced for those serving in World War One. The inverted red one is as a sleeve of a jumper, the red stripe indicates service in 1914, and a blue stripe service in years after 1940. So, you could tell who your old salts were and your long timers and that sort of thing.
Down the bottom here the Royal Australian Navy Coaling Corps, a very, very short-lived unit. It was introduced in 1916 when the Sydney Coal Lumpers Union looked like going on strike, and the Navy became concerned about whether it would still be able to coal its ships, so they struck this deal with the coal lumpers and said, 'I tell you what, you'll get conditions of service for being in the Navy if you promise to coal our ships in the event of a strike. Here's a badge. Here's an arm armoured.’ So, they did this and sure enough there was a strike, but when the transport workers went out also that's where the deal ended. It was solidarity here and the union has stuck together, and that was the end of the very short-lived Royal Australian Navy Coaling Battalion.
Between World War One and the outbreak of World War Two a variety of new categories made their appearance including Divers and Dental Mechanics. Chief Petty Officers’ uniforms also altered slightly when approval was given in January 1926 for three large gilt buttons to be added to the cuffs of blue jackets and white tunic, so that's now synonymous with the rank of Chief Petty Officer in the Royal Australian Navy, and the Royal Navy for that matter. Three brass buttons worn on the cuff: Chief Petty Officer. If you were promoted from Petty Officer to Chief, it was known as getting your buttons. Unfortunately, in my slide, he elected to have his hands behind his back, however what you can also see is that his badges indicating his rating and his trade have moved up onto the collar, so that's why this slide's important.
In 1928, a new style of Royal Australian Navy button was introduced comprising a vertical stockless anchor replacing the previously worn lazy anchor—so you can see now the anchor is upright. What followed was the bandsman’s badges went from having the lazy anchor to the vertical anchor as well, and in the top-left there, the new badge for Chief Petty Officers was introduced with the laurels around it and the former badge of Chief Petty Officer became that worn by Petty Officers.
The onset of war with Germany on 3 September 1939 triggered another technological revolution that saw the armed forces of the industrialised world rapidly advance in ways not previously considered possible. With those new technologies and innovation came the requirement for a host of new categories in the RAN and a much more practical approach to dress. At the beginning of the war our men were serving at sea wearing uniform, you can see on the slide on the left there, which was basically this—what today would be considered a ceremonial uniform. They were fighting and dying in those uniforms. By the end of World War Two, we were fighting alongside the Americans in the Pacific. The conditions were hot, it was an area that we hadn't previously spent a great deal of time in, and khaki uniform was introduced as a much more practical hardwearing rig. You can see this Rating on the right here parading that. More often than not, only the shorts were worn with a tatty pair of sandals, and when they went to action-stations they put their anti-flash hood on. I'm not quite sure how that worked out, but the pictures don't lie.
Also in World War Two we saw the institution of the Women's Royal Australian Naval Service, the WRANS, and also the Royal Australian Navy Nursing Service. From 1941, Australia's first female sailors could be found performing a variety of critical jobs ashore, dressed in navy blue jackets, skirts and felt fur hats. I call your attention back to that earlier slide of Blair Bowden. By the end of the war, they too had added a much more practical khaki uniform to their rig. It was better suited to serving in places such as Townsville and Cairns where it was extremely hot. Here we have a Nursing Sister. They followed the pattern of the WRANS reasonably closely, albeit that their cap badge for the Officers was the Naval Officers’ cap badge as opposed to one in gloria blue, and here you can see an example of the wavy cuff lace and shoulder epaulette.
The Women's Services were briefly disbanded after the war, but in 1951 the WRANS was resurrected. In the same year, post-war kit was approved which saw the introduction of light blue embroidered badges for Ratings and the distinctive tricorn hat for Officers. They've gone from having a floppy felt-fur hat to this tricorn hat, which is still in use today. Also, the Royal Australian Naval Nursing Service, they were also reinstituted around the same time. This slide here is quite interesting. We've got this boatload of women here and they're all wearing white cap ribbons and the reason they're wearing these white cap ribbons is they've been selected as officer candidates, so to distinguish them as being down at HMAS Cerberus doing officer candidate training, they got the privilege of wearing these white cap ribbons. They also, you can see on the shoulders of the Officers there, or sorry the Officer candidates, they had these white tabs on their shoulders. That was the same for men who were selected for Officer candidates also.
The Reserve forces have been fundamental to the Navy from the outset. It's been variously named as the Royal Australian Naval Brigade, we've had the Australian Naval Reserve, the Australian Navy Volunteer Reserve, we've had the Australian Navy Emergency Reserve, the Royal Australian Navy Fleet Reserve. I'm sure there's a couple I've missed as well, but there's many moving parts to the Reserve forces, all of which have underpinned the operations of the Royal Australian Navy, and you can see some of their badges and distinguishing insignia there.
Chaplains too, they've been a constant in the RAN since its inception in 1913. On the left there we've got a picture of the Reverend Vivian Liddell, in his Chaplain’s attire. I think he would have been quite pleased to shift out of that into something more akin to the slide on the right, where we've got Keith Matheson, who served in World War Two. You can see that what they did is they basically took an Officer’s cap badge and reversed it, so instead of having the gold laurels they were black laurels, picked out in gold, and that became distinguishable as Chaplains. Similarly, you can see on the shoulder boards there, he's got a Maltese cross. Keith Matheson was one of those who was serving in HMAS Perth when it was sunk, and he was taken prisoner of the Japanese and he did sterling work on the Thai-Burma Railway with his own ministry there, so he was very fortunate to survive the war.
The lessons of World War Two, particularly in the Pacific, where naval airpower really did prove that it was going to be an important part of the future, saw the RAN introduce a dedicated Fleet Air Arm, and from 1947 a proliferation of new trades and specialisations began to appear. We had Aircraft Handlers, Airframe and Engine Fitters, Rating Pilots, Officer Pilots, Air Crew, they all had their own badges. I could talk for hours just on the Fleet Air Arm, they had so many different distinguishing marks, and not to mention flying kit. What I'm saying is that also introduced to the Navy a whole range of different uniforms and jobs.
To try and solve the issue of Sailors wearing anti-flash hoods with bare chests and sandals, it was decided that they'd introduce a dedicated action working dress, and in 1948 it made its debut in March, and it was the uniform you see at the left there, a dark blue pair of pants, a paler blue shirt. Here's a rate badge of the type that would be worn on the sleeve of the shirt. That's the badge of the Electrical Branch, and here we've got a Rating at the helm of the aircraft carrier HMAS Sydney wearing that kit.
For officers, bush jackets were introduced in May 1950. Berets also became fashionable, mainly for air crew and Divers, and later on Junior Recruits, Apprentices and those people going through the Naval schools. The Fleet Air Arm I imagine would probably later grab this claim to the beret. I think that had more to do with walking around flight lines where you didn't want the caps to blow off and things like that.
The Korean War, you would think that just five years after the Second World War that the Royal Australian Navy would have been well placed to participate in this war. It was not. We had trouble getting ships up there, we had trouble surging men, and we were ill-prepared for the cold weather. You can see this rating here in the picture is wearing a World War Two style convoy jacket. He's got a beanie, a balaclava, most probably knitted and sent from home. We just did not have the cold weather gear, and that was one of the lessons we learned from that conflict. The scene on the right here is the flight deck of HMAS Sydney covered in snow, and it was a pretty cool affair from what I've been told.
On the 6th of February 1952 King George VI died and Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne. The change of monarch marked the end of over 50 years of rule by successive British kings, all of whom had adopted the Tudor Crown as the symbol of their authority, and after Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in June 1953 the St. Edward's crown was adopted replacing the Tudor crown on badges, insignia and buttons. You can see here that very distinctive Queen's crown, as it's colloquially known, on shoulder boards, badges, caps, etc. The cap there is the cap of the Women's Royal Australian Naval Service around that time.
May 1952 saw the establishment of the Clearance Diving category and from September 1954 the letter C was added below the Divers non-substantive badge, to indicate the Clearance Diving qualification, and that was basically to make a clear distinction between Ships’ Divers who were not trained as well as these men and those who just took routine diving duties. This is one of the first courses there, so that introduced a whole raft of new diving-style uniforms as well.
1950s, we're getting there, the history of the 20th century. The 1950s also saw the demise of Officers’ distinction cloth. That's that colour cloth I was talking about between the lace, they got rid of that in the 1950s, with the exception of the Medical Branches which I've already mentioned. Instead, what the Reserve forces did, the Reserve forces got rid of their wavy navy lace as well and they went to the straight lace. The only distinction that they had was to wear a small letter ‘R’ inside the curl of the executive curl there. That too was discarded in 1986 and now there's no difference: you can't distinguish a Naval Reserve Officer from a serving Officer. The 1950s also saw the institution of National Service in the RAN, and special badges and cap ribbons, as you can see here, were introduced to identify those people. There they are with their RANR, Royal Australian Navy Reserve, in brackets National Service.
With the 1960s came the missile and jet age, and the beginning of Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War. Between 1965 and 1972, some 13,000-plus members of the RAN served in Vietnam in various capacities. Those who served ashore were primarily members of the Royal Australian Navy Helicopter Flight, Vietnam who you can see here, and Royal Australian Navy Clearance Divers. These guys are kind of interesting. They wore jungle green uniform, they were attached to the 135th US Army Assault Helicopter Company and they flew combat missions in support of actions of the style of Long Tan on a weekly basis. They had a pretty tough war. They lost five of their number and they remain the most highly decorated naval group to serve in Vietnam. They instituted this badge that you can see on the bottom left there, you can just see that badge suspended from that Leading Seaman ship’s pocket. It was designed by Naval Airman Ian Hughes and basically it was to show the association with the US Army. 'Get the bloody job done' was a direct quote from Lieutenant Max Speed. They were having a particularly difficult combat assault in 1968 and it looked like they were going to have to bug out of that one. But he said 'no, let's just stick with it and get the bloody job done.’ That became their motto. You'll also notice down the bottom there, under the naval anchor, the word ‘emu.’ That is another direct reference to the Australian Navy. An emu was an Australian bird, the irony of that is—it can't fly. These men proved that they could, and the other thing was, of course, that they said that they were the Experimental Military Unit. So, there's a lot of stuff going on in that badge there, but they were very, very proud of that and they still rally to that at their reunions.
The olive-drab badge you see at the top left there, was the style that was introduced for these men to distinguish them as Royal Australian Navy Ashore in Vietnam. Here we have a friend of mine, Jake Linton. Sorry, I should go back to that slide, on the left is Lieutenant Rob Wray. He retired as a Captain, RAN. He's still alive. Noel Shipp, he was a door gunner in a Huey. He lost his life when the aircraft in which he was flying, the two pilots were hit by ground fire during a combat assault. Shipp remained at his gun, his door gun, and was seen to be blazing away right up until the time of impact, and he has since had a Recruit School division down at Cerberus named after him. Here we have Jake Linton, he was leading one of the Clearance Diving teams. These guys perform all kinds of duties in Vietnam: explosive ordnance disposal; bunker busting missions; and later on they even crossed the border into Cambodia and did seal-type operations in the Mekong Delta and the U Minh Forest. So, these guys got everywhere, and accordingly they wore a uniform which was much more in keeping with serving ashore in Vietnam, not the sort of place where you want to be wearing what these gentlemen in the front row are wearing.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the Submariners and very dangerous for my health. The 1960s saw the reinvigoration of the Submarine service in the RAN. We had dabbled with submarines since World War One, we've had this on-again, off-again relationship with submarines where we tried to get a squadron up, it didn't work, the Depression came along, that sort of muddled things up. But in the 1960s, we got our Submarine Squadron sorted out, and you can see here their brevet that they wear very, very proudly. It’s very hard to earn that. It’s quite a rigorous training regime that they have to go through and you can see the obvious pride that these young fellows have in that. The Submarine service is open to women now as well, as are most roles in the Royal Australian Navy. The badge was introduced in July 1966 and was nicknamed ‘the kissing kippers.’
The 1960s also saw the aforementioned Royal Australian Navy Band shift out of their Royal Marine uniform into naval uniform. Does anyone know the story why? It was the 1956 Olympic Games, held here in Melbourne. At that event, the Massed Bands of the Royal Australian Navy put on the greatest marching spectacle you have ever seen, and you had 3 or 4 massed bands, and they made the Olympic rings, and the Drum Majors with their maces at the end of it, they tapped them, they lit up, flames shot out of them. It was a wonderful spectacle. The whole event was captured on television and reported as the Massed Bands of the Australian Army, much to the ire of the then Chief of Naval Staff who flipped his lid, and his desk, and said ‘Get those men in Naval uniform.’ And in naval uniform they have been ever since, never again to be confused with the Royal Marines. They’re probably happy about that—and the Australian Army—so that’s the story behind that.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the protective clothing worn by those who worked on the flight deck of the RAN’s aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne, and Sydney prior to that and even Vengeance before that, or after that, sorry. Each colour skivvy that you see on this flight deck denotes a different role. This is an example of safety, again, always getting back to this much more practical application of the Navy’s clothing. On the flight deck here, we’ve got marshalling an A-4 Skyhawk, on the other slide you can see an S-2G Tracker and a Wessex helicopter. The yellow skivvies—the Flight Deck Officer and Aircraft Directors. Other colours worn were red, green, blue, white and black, and each of those had differing functions as well.
The ‘70s and ‘80s saw the introduction of further technical rates as we became a much more sophisticated navy, with naval combat data systems to maintain, sophisticated radar, more sophisticated sonar. We saw a proliferation of embellishments to badges to denote skill grades appear, but typically this is what you would expect to see of Sailors and WRANS in the 1970s and 1980s. Here’s another slide here, where you can see the action working dress, there’s a Radar Plotter working in the operations room, a Signalman, young Spud Murphy up on the flag deck of one of the FFGs (Frigate, Guided Missiles) from the look of it. He’s wearing his foul weather jacket. They produced a very distinctive set of badges for those, pink. But there’s a couple of examples of some of the many trades that were in use, between the ‘60s and the ‘80s there. All manner of different things.
With the foul weather jackets came a proliferation of unofficial badges, where some of them weren’t quite politically correct, and they didn’t last long, which has made them even more collectable for you collectors out there if you can get your hands on any of those. This is a bit of an example of the esprit-de-corps within a ship. On your foul weather jackets, yes you would wear your rate badge, but you were also permitted to wear your ship’s patch, and it created a whole industry of industrious and clever people designing these patches, all designed around esprit-de-corps, and which category was better than the other, and which ship was better than the other, and all that sort of thing.
The Chaplains, well by the 1980s they’d got a bit of an overhaul as well and they looked much more like men of the contemporary cloth. You can see the scarves that they’re wearing around their necks there, very distinctive with the naval insignia on it. Again, no more bare chests with anti-flash: full covered-up, anti-flash tucked in, gloves worn. The enforcement of anti-flash discipline was something that became very, very in vogue after the Falklands War, where we looked at the lessons learned by the Royal Navy and realised that this was an area that we needed to get really serious about, because they suffered a lot of injuries down there and a lot of deaths as well.
In 1984 the WRANS were disbanded, and for the first time women adopted the traditional uniforms of the Sailor, as the RAN became one service. Here we have a Motor Transport Driver with the WRANS, down at Fleet base, at Garden Island in Sydney. That’s HMAS Perth in the background. After that, they shifted into naval uniform. The ‘docky coppers’ as they were known (they were known by other things as well, but we won’t get into that), they performed some very, very useful functions for the Navy. They looked after the Dog Squad, which looked after the airfield. They also had drug dogs and things like that. They too embraced women and they have all kinds of roles to play in law enforcement in the Navy, protection of naval facilities, that sort of thing, but eventually they too were disbanded and absorbed into the Royal Australian Navy. So, a lot of those ancillary reserve forces and ancillary components disappeared as we became one proper navy.
Almost there, folks, we’re up to the Gulf War. Gulf War One, we got pretty serious about damage control and fire fighting in Gulf War One, and this saw a need for a much more fire-retardant uniform. You can see here, this Stoker on the left is wearing what is known as the grey combat coveralls, they were made of a Proban material, fire-retardant, and reflective tape on the sleeves, reinforced epaulette straps on the top so that you could lift people out of compartments. If you went into a smoke-filled compartment with a torch it would pick up the reflective tape, and they were supposed to offer you some protection from flame. You can see these men here on the right, they’re loading the close-in weapons system on one of the FFGs.
In the 1990s here, we’ve got a Sergeant from the United States visiting with one of our guys from Perth. He’s still wearing his white-front, his flannel, that was very much the uniform in vogue in the ‘90s. That soon changed when we shifted into a more universal rig for men and women, this sort of demise of the bellbottom trousers, we went to straight-leg trousers. The white-front, the flannel, disappeared and we went to shirts and ties, and this is pretty well the ceremonial and the office-type uniform that you would see in use today in the Royal Australian Navy. Some years earlier though approval was given for personnel serving ashore in operations to wear army disruptive-pattern uniform, chiefly, by those serving in combat areas. The Clearance Divers have always had dispensation made for them to wear this type of stuff because of the nature of the work that they do. They support the SASR (Special Air Service Regiment) in CT work, counter-terrorism work, and they’re basically the Navy’s equivalent of Special Forces. They carry all that future-looking kit that you can see on the left there, and you can see a couple of the guys here who are involved in explosive ordnance disposal
Others serving in the Middle East region, or Middle East Area of Operations, adopted what was known as DPDU, disruptive-pattern desert uniform. You can see Commander Greg Swinden there, he’s my deputy, and that’s him serving over in the Middle East a few years ago, and you note that he’s wearing his rank on his chest. What they did is they decided that it wasn’t a good idea to have your rank worn up here, because it really identified who the Officers were very, very easily, and they could be picked off by snipers and things like that. So they started to wear the rank in the middle of their chest here where it wasn’t quite so obvious. Boarding Parties—we sort of dabbled with a much better uniform for them given that they were climbing up jacob’s ladders into merchant ships, or fast-roping into ships from helicopters, so they needed a uniform that was much more practical. This is one of the first efforts there, later replaced by what you see this young man wearing on the left here, where he’s got the disruptive naval pattern uniform on, which is the one currently in use, and along with a number of other accoutrements you see there.
I mentioned the unofficial badges for foul weather jackets earlier. Nowadays, most of the men and women in uniform wearing this on their right sleeve will wear the badge of their parent unit, little bit like a cap tally of old, but as you can see there’s a little bit more licence. HMAS Melbourne. FFG 005, ‘she gathers strength as she goes.’
Now the Navy’s also become a lot more multicultural, and that’s driven changes to uniforms as well, as you can see with this graduation parade at Cerberus. That was the first graduation parade where we had an Indian sailor graduate and the Navy came to the party on that, and it worked very, very well. My understanding is that young man has had a very good career.
Now in becoming a lot more practical in our approach, I believe that to some extent we have turned our back on our ceremonial stuff. The slide you see here, at the top-left, I was actually in this guard in Perth in 1980. We’d been in the Navy two months. We’d been trained up and we opened Parliament House. That was the Naval Guard, resplendent with our white gaiters, white belts, and you’ll notice that the white belts are pretty well in line and looking sharp. That was in 1980. No-one in that photo, with the exception of the Petty Officer and the Officer out front, there’s no one in that photo who’s over the age of 17, I’ll tell you that now. Then we have this guard down at the bottom-right here where I think, yes, we’ve become much more practical in our approach, but I think that we probably need to put the lens over ourselves a little bit and maybe just brush up a little bit when it come to the ceremonial side of the house. That’s just my personal opinion, but there we are.
Happily there are those occasions where we really, really do shine and continue to shine, and this was one of them. A few years ago when Her Majesty the Queen came to Canberra, you can see these very smartly-attired and proud Naval Ratings doing their boat drill on board Lake Burley Griffin on this naval barge, which was shipped up by semi-trailer from Sydney to Lake Burley Griffin for that occasion. So, there we go, but it was quite a spectacle and I’m quite sure that Her Majesty appreciated that.
That brings me to the end of the presentation. It’s been a long one, we’ve covered a lot of ground, I could talk forever on this. I started collecting naval badges when I was about eight years old and my father unpacked one of his packing cases from his time in the Navy and pulled out his old No.8’s and he gave me the badges off those. From that I just started collecting badges and cap ribbons, and then I wrote my book Kit Muster, so that became my way of giving something back. So there we are, that’s an overview. It’s been a long presentation, thank you. It is warm in here. More than happy to take any questions from the floor.
Audience Member: Just one, John. You didn’t mention the numbering system for the uniforms—you mentioned ‘number eights’ just a moment ago.
John Perryman: No, I didn’t, that’s a very good observation. Everything in the navy, and the army, and the air force is done by numbers, as you’d appreciate, and uniforms were no different. We had a very simple numbering nomenclature. If you were wearing No.1 uniform you knew that that was your best uniform, with medals in the case of officers: swords and medals. Your No.2 uniform was the same uniform but just with ribbons, and then each number identified a different type of uniform. Those numbers only went up to about twelve, there was about twelve variations of uniform at any one given time. So you know No.8’s were your working rig, No.6’s were your—for a Rating—your ceremonial uniform for summer. Your No.3’s were your night clothing and so on. On daily orders the dress of the day will be promulgated, and that will be promulgated as dress No.8, dress No.1, or whatever the case was. Yes ma’am?
Audience Member: Why bellbottoms?
John Perryman: Why bellbottoms? That’s a very good question. Actually while the bellbottoms gave you that nice svelte sort of look they actually did have a very practical application, and that was this: in the days when ships were made of steel with wooden decks, and you had to holystone the decks, the seamen department would fall in each day and they would have to holystone the deck. They would have to roll those trouser legs up above their knee, you see, and get down on their hands and knees and do that.
Also with the bellbottom trousers, the way that they were ironed horizontally. Because in a war ship you didn’t have the luxury of wardrobes or cupboards, you had a locker if you were lucky, which was about yea big. You were to take off your bellbottom trousers. The horizontal creases you’d fold one leg on to the other, you would concertina the legs of the trousers up and roll up the last little bit, and you would end up with a tube about this big which would fit in your locker. When you wanted to use them you would just pull them out, and they would drop out, all the creases would be there. You wouldn’t have to get them dry cleaned or ironed, and they’d still look smart. So, there was a number of practical applications.
Also, if your ship sank right, they were easy to get out of, they weren’t close fitting so you could get rid of them that way. Also, with naval boots there was a particular way that they were to be laced, and it was not criss-crossed lacing, it was straight lacing, and the reason for that was if you had to abandon ship you would get your seaman’s knife, and run it straight down that straight lacing, and it would cut them. Your boots would be off in seconds, whereas if they were criss-crossed it didn’t come off as easy.
So the navy, notwithstanding the fact that it wore these uniforms, these ceremonial type uniforms for day to day tasks, they still were thinking in practical terms back then. Even with your No.8 trousers, I remember when I joined the navy and we had to do our swimming test and our survival test, we would jump into a swimming pool fully-clothed, kick off our boots, and then we were told to take off our trousers, tie a knot in each leg, and then while we’re treading water throw them over our heads, and they would fill up with air because they were wet. You could just hold onto those, and one leg would go up this way, and one leg would go up that way, and it acted as a temporary—and I mean temporary—flotation device. There were always these practical things in mind, but I think that nowadays we’ve put practicality above appearance. It does sort of confuse me a little bit, why you need someone in combat gear working in an office to give you a piece of paper? That’s just me.
Audience Member: I had another question, but just to follow on from what you’ve talked about there John, if the navy was ever in a war again where ships were sinking do you think some of the old fashioned… You were talking about the navy taking on the new-style uniforms for reasons of practicality. It sounds like the old ones had a practicality, you know, in an era where ships were being sunk and there were certain maintenance tasks on the ship. Is it possible that some of these might come back again if the same sort of pressures were placed upon the Navy as there were once upon a time?
John Perryman: Look, I don’t think that they would come back. One thing that the old style of uniform certainly did not have in their favour is they were very, very flammable. Nowadays the clothing is loose fitting, you can get around in it easier, it’s easier to get off, they have reflective tape, they have double stitching, triple stitching, lifting strops sewn into them. They’ve looked at that very, very closely. So, I think that the safety of our people, that is something that the navy has I think generally been pretty good at, and that evolution has got us to where we are today. So I don’t think so. I think that if I went over the side in the sort of gear that they’re wearing today. One of those last slides we saw, that boarding party sailor, he had that special duties lifejacket on. It was camouflaged so you probably couldn’t see it, but the sort of stuff that when we’re sending these young men and women to do these dangerous boarding party jobs and things like that. Maritime interception in the Gulf, drug seizures, arms cache seizures. They are wearing, you know, really good gear, and I feel sure that if they went over the side, because they’re wearing special duties lifejackets, which are a bit like when you hop in an aeroplane, you pull the cord and pop, you’re going to stay afloat. Sir?
Audience Member: The three gentlemen in the front row. Could we have a brief look and description about their beautiful uniforms?
John Perryman: Gentlemen come up. Your time has come.
Leonie Pratt: Actually, while they’re coming up John, without being too controversial. Your personal opinion on the state of the Australian navy as it stands today, particularly the conditions of the ships, the submarines and the like. How are we standing?
John Perryman: Look, I think we’re in very good shape. Vice-Admiral Barrett, the Chief of Navy, has a very focussed vision for the Australian navy. I think that we are coming out of a period where we were doing a good job, into a period where we are going to be doing a much better job. The equipment that we now have, the capability with the new ships, the advent of the new submarines, the replacement replenishment ships, the new future frigates, the new offshore patrol vessels, all of these vessels are going to ensure that we have what we need to do our job which is maritime security in our region. As with any new capability, there’s always teething problems. We’re getting through those. We’ve just completed a very successful exercise, Talisman Sabre, here in Australia. It’s a very big exercise by all accounts, and that’s gone very, very well.
But I think that the current Chief of Navy is very focussed on the navy and the nation, and the two are inextricably linked when you’re on an island continent. We have a relationship with the sea. More than ninety percent of our trade comes by sea, and therefore there needs to be an awakening in the nation about the role that the navy plays. Most kids these nowadays, teenagers, what do they call them, millennials, and I don’t mean that as a derogatory term, but you know, this generation—iPhones, plasma TVs—commodities, those commodities come from somewhere. They don’t come from Australia, and they come over those saltwater highways, and it’s our job to make sure, for our economic survival, that we maintain that. So, I think we have a great reliance on the sea, I think Australia needs to wake up to that fact, and I feel very confident that the Chief of Navy’s vision for the navy is on target.
Gentlemen. Well, I would suggest that what we have here is a number of men of the Victorian Naval Forces. I would start at the end here with what appears to be a Chief Petty Officer, and then we have a Rating, looks like an Able Seaman to me, wearing the HMVS Cerberus, Her Majesty’s Victorian Ship Cerberus, cap ribbon. Let me just see if I can, is that better, not in your eyes now? Cerberus of course is down at Black Rock at Half Moon Bay there, and then let’s have a look at this chap on the end here. Now that’s a little unusual. I’m guessing that’s a frock coat of a non-executive branch. I’m not sure I’ve seen a uniform quite like that, so I might hand over to you.
Audience Member: I’ve just bought it from my friend a few years ago, and I think it’s a merchant marine frock coat, Officer or Commander, and the buttons are some shipping line but I don’t know what it is. There’s a lot of nice stuff.
John Perryman: Well, I tell you what, I like the cut of your jib. Yes sir?
Audience Member: John, he’s saying that it’s some Merchant Navy thing. We must remember that during the First World War the Brits put in a regulation for Merchant Navy uniform so that a Merchant Naval Officer could be identified as such and not be confused with a Royal Naval officer. They adopted a standard rank insignia and a uniform and a cap badge, so Merchant Navy personnel were equally as important as the navy personnel.
John Perryman: No argument from me at all. I’ve read The Bone Collectors, and if there’s ever a book you want to read about the role that the Merchant Navy played, that’s the one you want to read. And you’re quite right, which is why they were awarded the Mercantile Marine Medal in World War One in recognition of their valued service. So please don’t take my commentary as being derogative.
Audience Member: John, you explained the white lanyard well, which was going to be one of my questions. Is there a specific purpose of black silk, or is it decorative?
John Perryman: Ah, the black silk, great question. Originally, that was a black headscarf, and again getting back to that dual purpose, when you unravelled that, and let’s have a look at our Able Seaman. When you unravelled that in naval uniform it would actually unravel to about a yard, and you could wrap it around your head as a head scarf, right? Then it fell from use, but what they then did is decided, well, we like the look of that around there secured by a bow at the front. Let’s just make that a ceremonial trapping, and nowadays it’s about two inches wide. You buy it from ‘slops’ or the clothing store, and it has a ceremonial purpose only, but it used to be a black head scarf.
The collar goes back to the days of sail, when those sailors serving in sailing ships used to plait and tar their hair. The collar was introduced to stop the tar from getting on the uniform, so it wasn’t really a part of the uniform, it was really just there incidentally to keep the tar off the back of their uniform, but then it fell into everyday use. I’ve seen these decorated not only with the three white stripes, but I’ve also seen them embroidered with people’s names. I’ve seen them embroidered with places that sailors have been to, and you’ve always had this departure from uniformity.
Sailors have made it their business not to comply. I was one of them. When I was a young sailor, I would go on parade and I’d inherited from someone I looked up to, who got out of the Navy, his ‘tiddly’ stuff (smart or tidy). My silk that I wore with my naval uniform, you could unravel it, it was actually the finest red silk that you could see, and when you folded it up it looked black. But when you were on parade, and the sun sort of reflected off it, you got this lovely red-purple fleck coming out of it, which you know now and again when you were standing there and an Officer would inspect you, he could pick that there was something not quite right but couldn’t put his finger on it. Similarly, I had this wonderful collar, and I still do. Now the underside of the collar, the blue jean collar with the white stripes, was normally just this very drab sort of blue and white striped lines, and there were various iterations of that. The World War Two ones were somewhat broader, current day ones are thin. But mine had the most beautiful gold satin under it, so if the wind blew my collar up I was the dandy on parade. Things like that, and you always had these little idiosyncrasies.
If you went to South East Asia, and I imagine and I’m hoping that there’s some former naval people in the audience—he’s nodding his head—when you went ashore in Hong Kong particularly you could go to a naval tailor, and you’d get sewn into the cuffs of your jumper, your naval jumper, beautiful Chinese dragons. So, when they were folded down they couldn’t be seen, but when you went ashore you’d roll these things up, your fancy silk, your fancy collar. The cap would go to the back of your head, you know, you were Jack the Lad. Never worked for me, but I like to think it may have.
But there were always these little departures, and you know if you look at how airmen have decorated the nose of aircraft in the past, tank crew have decorated armoured fighting vehicles, sailors and servicemen have always decorated things. They’re the worst graffiti people in the world, and we do that with badges and these little departures. You can find them everywhere if you look hard enough.
Audience Member: What era are these gentlemen from?
John Perryman: These gentlemen are going to be from the late 1800s. This is the colonial naval period. The Colonial Naval Defence Act is passed in 1865, and their journey begins at that time, and there were a number of changes in that time, but they followed for the most part the pattern of the Royal Navy. So, this is what you see here.
Audience Member: Do you have a personal preference or a favourite uniform from an aesthetic point of view?
John Perryman: From an aesthetic point of view? Look I think it’s hard pressed. I love seeing a Naval Guard, with white gaiters, white belts, and bellbottom trousers bloused. When I see the Federation Guard nowadays, they look great, there’s no argument, they do look great, but I just think that the Navy lost a little something when we went away from the white gaiters. When you see, and I’m kicking myself because I had this wonderful slide of a sailor from HMAS Albatross, wearing Albatross cap ribbon, and he’s standing guard duty outside Government House in Canberra in about the 1970s. He’s standing there, he’s got his SLR rifle, and this guy’s tall and there is this little girl there with her teddy bear and woolly jacket, middle of winter, looking up at this man in absolute awe, and to me that says it all. That’s my absolute favourite image, I’ll send it to you, you’ll love it.
Alright, so I’ve banged on a bit about the Navy’s uniforms and its evolution, and you’ve been very patient with me. I’m looking at the time and it’s ten past seven, so I’ve really taken a lot of your time, but I hope that you got something out of that this evening.
Leonie Pratt: Thank you. Will you all please join me in thanking John Perryman. Just as a very small token of our appreciation, John, you’ve come a long way. Thank you very much, there’s a small gift for you. t’s heavy.
John Perryman: Thank you. I do have, I did bring down for those… I’ve got two spare copies of my book Kit Muster to the first two people who haven’t got one and who might like one?
Leonie Pratt: Oh, isn’t that kind of him? Thank you so much, John. So just in closing, I want to remind you all to please pass on to friends and family who couldn’t be here today that this wonderful talk will be available via podcast, either via iTunes or our website. It’ll go up in a couple of weeks’ time. Also, I just want to again mention our upcoming program, which is called Words from our Navy Veterans. This is going to be a wonderful panel discussion with some surviving veterans from the Second World War, who served particularly in the Pacific, and they’re going to be joined by Tracey Curro, who is one of the Trustees of the Shrine, who is going to facilitate a conversation with veterans Jim Paizis, David Manning, Norm Tame, Hiram Ristrom, Ray Leonard and Pamela Nicholls—who was one of the WRANS that John talked about today.
We hope to see you again soon, and please, although the Galleries are not open tonight and we need to all exit out, please when you come back come and see Nerves and Steel: The Royal Australian Navy in the Pacific, 1941-1945, special exhibition. We’ve had the pleasure of the company of our Senior Curator Neil Sharkey here today, and he would love nothing more than to have you come back and look through that special exhibition. It’s on for the next year.
So again, thank you for coming tonight, I know it’s a cold July evening, but thank you so much. John, it was a fabulous talk, I learned so much. I don’t know how you’ve kept up with the changes in the uniforms and badges and the like, but I’m so glad that somebody is keeping up with it. So thanks again everyone and have a good night.
Reviewed 28 July 2021