The Australian War Memorial faces unique challenges presented by the modern age to its collection development for recent conflicts, including Iraq and Afghanistan. With email, phones and internet communicative tools largely replacing traditional keepsakes such as diaries and letters, this has made identifying and retaining objects of the ADF experience in modern conflict rather difficult. Furthermore, given that the number of ADF personnel serving overseas is far less than those who saw service in such conflicts as the World Wars, this also limits the amount of material representing recent conflicts and therefore what will shape the Memorial’s collections in the future.
One attempt to address this issue involved a representative from the Memorial being sent, in late 2008 to accompany Australian forces in Iraq. Mal Booth, former Head of the Memorial’s Research Centre, was fortunate enough spend time with Australian forces in Iraq and was able to identify and target items which would be of interest to the Memorial. Some of this material was identified on the industrious HMAS Parramatta, which was at that time conducting its second tour of the Gulf as part of Operation CATALYST. Mal travelled with the ship on his journey and found that the vessel and its crew provided extensive opportunities for proactive collecting.
In September 2009, the Memorial returned to HMAS Parramatta in order to gather further material...
Not only did Parramatta provide a wealth of collection material but it also allowed the opportunity for Memorial staff to talk with personnel about the variety of material it would be interested in obtaining in the future. Amongst the assortment of material that was collected, there are many items worth highlighting.
One such example, perhaps the prize of the collection, is “The Weight” – made from two 3 inch (76 mil) shell case stubs. Constructed by the Gunbusters on HMAS Darwin during their Gulf deployment in 2005, the item was then passed to each RAN ship on rotation through the Gulf as part of Operation CATALYST. It became a tradition that ended with HMAS Parramatta’s deployment as the final RAN ship to deploy under CATALYST. The name of each ship and their date of deployment were engraved during each tour of duty. It was also repaired by shipwrights of HMAS Newcastle which was subsequently engraved. An engraver in Dubai was used for the last etching, and the bag from this vendor was kept with the item.
Other interesting items included a tally band, stickers and baseball cap with the ship’s insignias. The sticker featured in the bottom of the picture includes a photograph of the ship while underway in the Gulf.
Yet another item worthy of note is the ship’s coin, struck to distribute to visiting vessels.
One of the more significant items is a folder of material collated by the crew for the purpose of capturing their experiences. The folder includes a variety of items which were produced by and utilised by the crew, from all ranks and ratings.
Some of the items include: signals distributing important information and events, notices of Christmas activities to boost crew morale, copies of Crossing the Line (equator) certificates, and an autographed programme for a dinner commemorating the sinking of HMAS Parramatta II.
Some rather special items are the winning submission and certificate of the ship’s Colouring Competition. Entries were submitted by relatives of the crew and provided an opportunity for families to interact with those they missed despite the distance.
The crew also retained copies of an entire set of their Troopship Serials Parramatta Post and Parramatta Ports. Such items make invaluable research tools in years to come as they document the experiences of the crew in work and play throughout their deployment. They usually include photographs and are often sent back home to family, providing a vital link between loved ones and those who serve.
HMAS Parramatta proved to offer a rich variety of material reflective of the crew’s experiences as part of Operation CATALYST. With this operation since concluded, it is hoped that the Memorial will continue to foster its relationship with the ship in order to capture these items which might otherwise be lost. The importance of this should not be overlooked for in years to come, families of HMAS Parramatta and other interested researchers will find they have access to wider resource material as they endeavour to learn something of the experiences of the crew in conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan.