Journal of the Australian War Memorial - Issue 34
Tom Frame and Kevin Baker, Mutiny!: naval insurrections in Australia and New Zealand, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2000, xi + 283 pp., illustrations, endnotes, index, soft cover, rrp A$29.95.
Reviewed by: JOZEF STRACZEK, Senior Naval Historical Officer, Department of Defence
In any disciplined force, mutiny is a serious offence. In fact, after treason, it is probably the worst offence that could be committed, as it undermines the very fabric of discipline. As such, it is a topic which deserves serious and considered treatment. The Royal Australian Navy's more famous mutinies - such as those affecting HMAS Australia (1919) and HMAS Pirie (1943), as well as the Garden Island walk-offs in 1970 - are all examined in detail in this book, and their causes and effects dealt with. Many of these are found to have causal similarities, which makes one wonder why the Navy had not, apparently, learnt from them. Lesser known, but equally interesting, incidents are also covered.
Though the book deals with mutinies in the Royal Australian Navy and Royal New Zealand Navy, there are a number of chapters covering mutinies in the New South Wales Corps, the Royal Navy, the Australian Army, and Royal Australian Air Force. The inclusion and description of these events provides useful additional and comparative information. It is in Chapter 15, when discussing the 1918 mutiny in the First AIF caused by the proposed disbandment of a number of battalions, that the reader comes up against the dilemma underlying this book. Here the authors state that "As [Charles] Bean has covered these events in Volume VI of his official history they need not be repeated here, other than to mention these as possible mutinies." In the first chapter they have attempted to define what constitutes a mutiny, yet in the end they fail to provide a clear and succinct definition.
As this book is about naval mutinies, then perhaps the definition which should have been used is that in the Naval Discipline Act 1957. This states that a mutiny means a "combination between two or more persons ... to overthrow or resist lawful authority . to disobey such authority . so as to make the disobedience subversive of discipline . and to impede the performance of any duty".
The failure to provide a definition of what constitutes a mutiny has allowed the authors to include numerous incidents which may not fit that category. A good example of this is the case of Leading Seaman Terence Jones, who claimed to be a conscientious objector when his ship was about to deploy to the Gulf of Oman following Iraqs invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Jones, though clearly disobeying orders, was not attempting to overthrow or incite revolt against the structure of the Navy. Judged against the Naval Discipline Act definition, his actions were clearly not a case of mutiny.
The inclusion of cases such as Leading Seaman Joness help to bolster the authors claim that since "1916 there have been more mutinies in the Royal Australian Navy than in any other navy maintained by an English-speaking nation". Unfortunately, this contention is not supported by the facts as they are presented in the book. At no point is there any comparison of the various countries and their mutinies. Yes, the RAN has had its share of mutinies, which are well covered in the book. But to suggest it has had more that any other English-speaking navy!?
This work might be, as the publisher claims, the first comprehensive study of naval insurrections in Australia and New Zealand that has been published. It is a pity, however, that no acknowledgement is given to the fact that this book had its origins in Kevin Bakers earlier manuscript, Under the Kings Discipline: mutinies in the armed forces of Australia and New Zealand since 1885. Another publication dealing with Australian aspects of the subject is The Administration of Discipline in the Royal Australian Navy, 1911-1964 by T.J. Holden (1992), but as this is an in-house booklet published by the RAN, it is not so widely available.
Disappointing, too, is the lack of a bibliography, though this is made up for by endnotes. The usefulness of these could, however, have been improved by greater attention to accuracy. For instance, Iris Nesdale (not Neasdale) wrote The Corvettes (fn.14, p.275), and the correct title of R.J. Hardstaffs 1995 history of the hydrographic service is actually Leadline to Laser (fn.3, p.273; ditto p.276). It also must be wondered how the authors derived the claims regarding corvette performance (p.164) from Les Lawlers description of engine room conditions in Corvette, July 1993, no.50, p.11 (fn.3 to chapter 12).
All too often naval history in Australia does not go beyond ships, operations and general histories. The study of the institution and its operation, successes and failures, usually rates a very poor second place. In Mutiny!; naval insurrections in Australia and New Zealand, we have a good start on a topic, the study of which provides important insights into the Navy, its people, and how they may react under certain circumstances.