In October 1973, late one night, when usually the most eloquent arguments are propounded, the clearest statements made, and the Navy is put to rights, Captains Vernon Parker and J.A ‘Rocker’ Robertson came to the not original conclusion that what was needed was a Naval Society. During the following few months the idea was broadly discussed gain support and ideas.
On the afternoon of Friday 12 July 1974 a meeting was convened by Captain Parker in a conference room in Navy Office, Canberra. Nine captains, four commanders, two Lieutenant Commanders and a Lieutenant attended. They discussed the need to produce a journal on naval and maritime affairs to promote greater awareness of these issues within the naval profession. The meeting noted that there had been previous attempts at this initiative but all had failed. It was generally felt that this failure was because a well-founded body had not been formed that would produce such a journal. The meeting agreed therefore that a naval society should be formed and Parker was to head a steering committee of seven of those present to produce a draft constitution.
A month later a meeting agreed to the three objective of the Naval Society, which were:
a. To provide an unofficial forum for the exchange of ideas about the development and improvement of the Navy;
b. To bring together all persons and bodies interested in maritime affairs as they effect the Australian Nation; and
c. To collect and disseminate information about naval and maritime affairs.
At that meeting it was agreed that the name of this naval society would be the Australian Naval Institute.
On 2 October 1974 a letter was forwarded to the Minister of Defence requesting approval to use the word “Naval”, this being a specified word for the purposes of the Defence (Prohibited Words and Letters) Regulations. The proposal received out of session Naval Board support. Notwithstanding, it was not until 15 January 1975 that the Minister’s approval dated 7 January 1975 was received. Meanwhile membership was slowly increasing and reached 30 by 21 January 1975. With Ministerial approval to use the word Naval, honorary solicitors were instructed on 21 January 1975 to formally seek incorporation. A most extraordinary series of events then followed.
At first the Registrar did not like our objectives. Then he thought the use of the word Naval should be referred to the Attorney-General. When it was pointed out that the Minister of Defence had approved this, the Registrar then demanded to see the original of the approval and not to receive this through the Officers of the Institute but direct from the Department of Defence. In any event the Registrar referred the whole question of incorporation to the Attorney-General in early March 1975. In early April the Attorney-General queried whether the Australian Naval Institute was associated with the Navy League or Naval Association, which at the time, you may recall, were issuing statements to the press on Naval policy. The Attorney-General was informed that we had no association with these two bodies and for that matter with any other organisation. Frustrated by these delays and in expectation of an earlier consent to the application a Special General Meeting had been set down for 4 April 1975. This was duly held and an interim Council elected, an Auditor appointed and a paper “Law of the Sea-Defence Implication” was delivered by Commodore KD Gray DFC ADC RAN, an historic first.
On the books on that date were 57 foundation members. The Attorney-General gave his consent in April 1975. The Registrar approved the publication of an advertisement in the Canberra Times on 24 April 1975 giving notice of the intention to form the Australian Naval Institute. The ANI was formally incorporated on 10 June 1975 at which time the membership stood at 68. In all, twenty months from conception to realisation.
During the 1990s a New Zealand Chapter of the ANI was in operation as was a Chapter in Sydney.
The ANI Foundation Members were:
In August 1975 the first ANI Journal was produced with a circulation of 300 copies. The Journal grew in size and circulation and became a quarterly publication. In all 154 editions were produced. The last published in 2016 when the ANI directed its energies to an on-line presence on the internet.
In the early years of its existence the ANI stages a series of Seapower Conferences in Canberra. The first in 1979 drew over 300 attendees and speakers included Admiral Elmo Zumwalt USN. conferences were also held in 1981, 1984 and 1987. Since that time ANI activities have evolved to:
• an annual dinner associated with the Vernon Parker Oration held in Canberra,
• the Goldrick Seminar held in association with Australian Centre for the Study of Armed Conflict and Society (University of NSW at ADFA);and
• Maritime events – chiefly outside Canberra.