- Francis, Richard
- History - general
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- December 2003 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The provision of a Wet Canteen was approved during May 1939 but not installed until September 1940. In 1937 Royal Navy House was registered as a Company, Limited by Guarantee, with management vested in a Council, consisting of not less than 10 and no more than 21 councillors, chaired by either the Admiral Commanding the Squadron or the Flag Officer in Charge East Australia Area. In 1945 further alterations were made to provide additional accommodation when the British Pacific Fleet entered the Pacific War Area, and was based on Sydney.
1946 was a record year for sleeping accommodation with a total booking of 307,678 for beds and ‘shakedowns’ (camp beds). Records show a grand total of 4,420,663 beds occupied between the first opening and 30 June 1969. No mean achievement!
Later improvements included the conversion of dormitories to cabins, modernising the Canteen lounges and the washing amenities, showers and toilets, conversion of most of the second floor to married quarters for sailors’ families, installation of a guest lounge and ladies lounge (primarily for WRANS and other servicewomen), accommodation for the Superintendent and Administrative Officer, public address system, conversion of the old coke-fired hot water system for a completely new oil-fired installation, and fire protection sprinkler system throughout the building.
Post 1958 the renovations were funded by grants from the RAN Central Canteens Funds and supplemented by some accumulated House Funds. Interestingly, when Sydney hotels closed their bars at 6pm, the now RAN House was one of the few places where liquor could be legitimately obtained up until 2300. Additional privileges were given to sailors in 1955 by allowing them to invite lady friends to the cafe and canteen, up until closing time of these facilities. Ex-Naval organisations – including the Naval Historical Society – were permitted to also use the facilities for functions and meetings, providing enjoyment, good catering and ample refreshments.
Some interesting facts emerge from the records of the establishment. Originally, a bed was charged at sixpence a night – with a fine of 6d more if entering the House after midnight! Lockers were rented at a shilling a month and baths at tuppence. While all drinks were charged two pence, meals cost on average a florin, billiards cost sixpence per player per half hour and fines (variously defined) at half a crown per offence. These charges remained constant until 1920 when some increases were made. By 1970 beds were $1 per night and meals ranged from 40 cents. The House was open seven days a week, 24 hours a day and there were no surcharges. The House acted as an Agency for the Commonwealth Savings Bank and in itself was unique in banking history, being the only bank in the world which never closed, being open throughout like the House itself. Going back a little further, Goodenough Royal Naval House charged fourpence for a supper of bread and cheese, all drinks were tuppence and soup was provided from surplus meat, at cost, if available.
On 16 April 1968, the House was renamed Royal Australian Naval House (although the name over the main entrance remained as a constant reminder of its Imperial origins). Royal Naval House was included on the itinerary of Royal visits, the first being Edward, Prince of Wales, on 18 August 1920. Most Governors of NSW have visited and inspected the House, as have some Governors-General. It has always been the custom to offer the facilities of the House to visiting sailors from other navies of every nation. Sometimes complete ships companies of small ships up to destroyer size have been billeted, particularly during the war years. During the Rocks Area Redevelopment Plan it was expected that the present House would be demolished, but the facade has been preserved while the interior was gutted and now houses part of the Sydney Stock Exchange.
Research material provided from : “A History of Royal Naval House” compiled by K.E.W. Grant (Administrative Officer RAN House) 1970, copy provided by Mrs. A.V. Bird (who managed to save some surviving relics from the House from their final resting place at RANSA Club House at Rushcutters Bay.)
Of interest, the stained-glass window adorning the Wardroom at HMAS Kuttabul was presented to the Mess when Johnnies was finally closed for the Rocks Redevelopment. Ed.