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Researching the Royal Australian Navy at the museums in Sydney

After my interview with Jean Nysen I spent the rest of the weekend exploring WWII naval history at the museums in Sydney.

The Australian National Maritime Museum ( at Darling Harbour had an exhibit that reviewed the creation of the Royal Australian Navy.

Up until Federation, each of the colonies had their own separate naval force. After Federation in 1901 the separate forces were joined to form the Commonwealth Naval Forces.

The Royal Australian Navy was later formed in 1911 when King George V granted the title of ‘Royal’ on the Permanent Commonwealth Naval Forces and designated Australian warships as His Majesty’s Australian Ships (HMAS).

The first battle cruiser built for the Royal Australian Navy Fleet, the HMAS Australia, arrived in Sydney Harbour on 4 October 1913. Jean’s father was aboard this ship and she had a wonderful collection of memorabilia from the day, including the official certificate commemorating the arrival of the Australian Fleet.

HMAS Vampire

WWII WRANS clothing

Bell from the HMAS Otway

The Navy Heritage Centre (, located at the Garden Island Public Access Precinct, is accessible only by Sydney Ferry. The museum is free of charge and contained an incredible display of Royal Australian Navy exhibits, including one specifically about the WRANS. I was able to locate the two Navy Bells that Jean had donated to the museum. The platform at the top of the ex-Main Signal Building gives a 360 degree view of Sydney Harbour!

View from the ex-Main Signal Building on Garden Island. Click on the photo to make it larger.


I received a phone call today in response to my advertisement in the ex-WRANS Association of NSW newsletter. The ex-WRANS served in the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service and were initially inducted as telegraphists, learning morse code in order to communicate with navy ships during WWII. Jean Nysen (McKenzie), the 87th woman inducted into WRANS, has agreed to be interviewed. From a navy family, Ms. Nysen’s father was aboard HMAS Australia when the Royal Australian Navy fleet first arrived in 1913. Her brother was a survivor of the HMAS Canberra. The interview is scheduled for April.

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