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Page 7-1 — November 86. Journal of the Australian Naval Institute
MERMAIDS DO EXIST. Sir Henry Burred, Macmillan Australia, 1986, pp 318, RRP $24.95
Almost as rare as the siren songs of mermaids are autobiographies by Australian Admirals. This is the third (after Collins' As Luck Would Have it and Gatacre's Report of Proceedings) and. in this reviewer's opinion, the most readable. Sir Henry Burred has a nice style and retains all the good humour that was his hallmark in a long and distinguished career.
Burred served from 1918 to 1962. a period that saw the transmogrification of the RAN from a far-flung squadron of the imperial fleet to a significant regional sea power. (No doubt, some other history will record our subsequent fall from grace.) He saw coal go out and jet engines come in, 12-inch guns replaced by missiles, and the world balance turned upside down He unfolds a story of an unabashed love affair with the Royal Navy, a regard that makes ironic whimsy of his dominant role in the purchase of the DDG and the prolound effect that has had on. and in, the RAN.
The book contains some wisdom distilled from a lifetime of going to sea. Junior officers are exhorted to gain experience before the responsibility descends'. I particularly like the phlegmatic fatalism behind his philosophic'.,. as machines break down, bolts unscrew and rum evaporates, (so) gyro compasses wander'.
Editing of the book, unfortunately, is not of the highest standard and little errors abound — for example, there are two footnotes numbered 42 (the first, on page 200, is spurious but the second, on page 223. is valid); 'single-range' Tartar launcher is used instead of single-rail'; the ill-fated 'City of Rayville was owned by the American Pioneer Line but that does not entitle her to the prefix USS These faults are intensely irritating; for $24.95, the reader is entitled to be given more care and attention.
In the most part, though, the book provides a pleasant stroll down the shady lanes of nostalgia. Rarely does Burrell display much heat but an exception occurs with his discussion of the background to CNO 1022/56 which introduced the General List — few today would hold his views on the divine right of seaman specialists and those who did would be ridiculed by today's naval technocrats and defence bureaucrats. It's a different Navy: his was nicer. Another section with a good deal of fervour is his treatment of the various rises and falls of the fortunes of the Fleet Air Arm but. unfortunately, not too much light accompanies the heat. I hope that someone out there is writing the definitive history of this grossly abused and much misunderstood facet of seapower.
This lack of depth is a source of frustration. Books by CNSs should have more substance; instead this book has a disproportionate amount of charming anecdote
which would better belong in Make a Signal or Fabulous Admirals. Admiral Burrell encountered some remarkable lives and experienced some extraordinary times but he only touches on these His tantalising comments on Mountbatten as both Supreme Commander and as Chief of Defence Staff are not developed and you'd need to have read Zieglers masterful biography to understand the remarks in better context. Similarly, his insight into Casey's complex make-up is shallow, but at least it is consistent with Dr Hudson's recent book It's as fhough Admiral Burrell is too decent a man to speak ill ol anyone and that his book is mainly tor the edification of his grandchildren.
To my mind, the most interesting part is his time as Chief of Naval Staff But for all its similarity to today's job. he may as well be writing of the Admiralty in the 18th Century as of the Australian Commonwealth Naval Board only 25 years ago. The simplicity, naivety, innocence and measured pace stand in stark contrast to the phrenetic rush and complexity of today; that aside, evidently political complacency, public Ignorance, budgetary problems, bureaucratic inertia and RAAF perfidy remain the enduring features of naval life at the top.
Admiral Burrell's term in that great office saw a period ol expansion unparalleled in peacetime This surge of activity shaped the fleet of today, but at the same time (and this is the shame of it) his fleet in being — or in the estimates — is largely the Heel we have today, a quarter of a century and nine CNSs later.
Despite these criticisms. Mermaids is a book to enjoy and to learn from. Sir Henry achieves his objectives in giving people cause to think about defending their good luck in being Australians.
Published specially for South Australia's sesquicentenary. Mudflats to Metropolis is a delightful little book put together by a committee under the leadership of the Mayor and Mayoress of Port Adelaide. As every mariner who has visited Port Adelaide since 1969 knows, the Mayor (Mr HCR Marten. CBE) has a fierce pride in his City and the people. This is well reflected in the book, as is the historical expertise of the editorial committee.
Paraphrasing the preface, 150 years is a long lime and it would be difficult to reduce that amount of history into ninety-six pages; less if the advertising is removed Covenng a diverse range of subjects. Mudflats to Metropolis whets the appetite to read more about
November '86. Journal of the Australian Naval Inslitute — Page 75
many ot the lacets that include commerce, industry, recreation and sport, unions, shipping and transport, education and local government One page is devoted to the history ot the local hotels and inns — a definite must lor members ot the maritime profession.
Irrespective ot those settlements that claim to be the birthplace ot the Colony. Pod Adelaide can rightly boast that it was the economic cornerstone of South Australia More-over, the Pod has figured in |ust about every stage ot the States development
Easy to read and illustrated with many previously unpublished photographs, the book gives a clear and concise insight into the early days ot Pod Adelaide. follows it through the industrial expedise (some of which has now sadly disappeared) to the City as it is today
Early local defence matters are well recorded, although to my mind Fods Glanville and Largs receive the lion's share ot printed matenal. compared with the colonial Navy However, emphasis is placed on the fact that all ot these elements were, at the time, considered essential lor local defence.
The adicles on each ot the varied subjects is. by necessity, quite shod, but they contain the meat of the matter It is wodh staling that there are two items that will allow the interested reader to look tudher in their own time and at their own pace The Chronology is comprehensive, and this is toilowed by a page of suggested Further Reading'
In shod, this book is excellent value lor money. It demonstrates what can be done by a committee when they set their mind to it.
Stocks of the booklet are limited and my copy was obtained trom the Librarian. Pod Adelaide Public Library. St Vincents Street. Pod Adelaide. 5015