Naval Historical Society of Australia

I first got into history when I was around twelve years old, after watching a film and then reading a book series about the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, so I basically owe my entire scope of interests to naval history. It remains my basic go-to topic if I don’t know what else to study, and makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. I’m not Australian, so the option of finding a local community or getting inspiration from my parents or surroundings wouldn’t work. Which is why I first looked for naval societies, and found the NHSA (Naval Historical Society of Australia),
As I’ve mentioned in the collaborative document, the NHSA deals with knowledge, research and learning about the history of Australian Navy. I visited them last Tuesday (August 28), and the entire visit was wonderful. I was met by John, head researcher, and David, the secretary who had been emailing me before we met, at the pass point of Garden Island Defence Precinct. We got to the building belonging to the NHSA, and I was told it used to be a boatshed. Almost everyone in the society is a retired naval officer, and, naturally, I was the youngest person in the room — which made me a little wistful, actually, about the general disinterest of young people in history. This is not the first time I think about this disinterest, and I suspect history education in schools usually is to blame. Granted, getting into history as a philosophical paradigm or wanting to understand humanity won’t be on any kid’s to-do list, but with enough tools, the subject could be so engaging and exciting even to children, let alone teens.
Anyway, I was a bit anxious before coming, but everyone was so welcoming and sweet and willing to talk to me. John gave me a tour around the society’s library (my eyes were flashing red the whole time, it’s a fantastic collection of books and I hope to get my hands on some of them if John lets me) and the heritage museum next door. As John explained, the NHSA only deals with archives, literature and knowledge, while the physical objects and artifacts go to the museum. John also showed me the oldest European graffiti (right upon the First Fleet arrival) on a rock behind the museum, and turned out to like the Napoleonic Wars just as much as I do; he told me a little about himself serving in the Navy as well. I wish I could ask everyone so many questions about their service.
I have two tasks now, one of which I’ve already completed over the week, actually. John asked me to compile a document with all the links, phone numbers, addresses, names, titles and so on useful for research. The NHSA gets a lot of queries from people about their relatives and ancestors serving in the RAN (Royal Australian Navy), or other types of questions relating to research, so they use a vast variety of resources, from museums and societies to websites, archives and the Department of Defence. John has two heavy folders with cut-outs, print-outs, documents and phone books, and he usually doesn’t need them (the man has a memory like an elephant), but he’d like to pass his job on one day, and his successor could use a list. So I’ve been typing all that information into one neat document, occasionally checking if the links still work or if the addresses are still relevant.
Also, the NHSA publishes “Occasional Papers” with stories from naval history or research, and they’re all compiled on their website in pdf format; president of the society, David, asked me to put them all on the website as posts, so that’s what I’m doing from home now. It’s good that I can work from home, because the NHSA only works on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and I can only visit every other Tuesday. Even though I’d like to visit more and talk to them.
Not sure if I have any ideas for a project separate from my current volunteering: when I’m done with the task for David, I’ll ask if they want me to do anything else. If there turns out to be no new work to be done, I’ll come up with a project of my own, but for now I’m happy just to be useful and contribute in any way I can.