Never-before-seen footage of stranded asylum seekers being rescued amid storm-driven surf is just one of the items on display in a new online exhibition about the history of Navy.

HMAS Pirie was among the first to the respond when an Indonesian fishing boat carrying almost 100 people smashed into jagged cliffs off Christmas Island during heavy monsoonal weather in 2010.

Curator and Australian War Memorial (AWM) Navy Fellow Commander Andrew Schroder said it was the first time maritime security operations were featured in an AWM exhibition.

“You see a rigid-hulled inflatable boat getting thrown around, heads in the water, the wrecked boat – it’s so moving the Memorial had to put in a disclaimer acknowledging the nature of the footage,” Commander Schroder said.

“The commanding officer [Pirie] ends his interview talking about how the rescuers were only 18 and 19-years old, and he’s got a tear in his eye.

“These kids made life-saving decisions about who to pull out of the water.”

There were 42 people Navy personnel rescued in what was one of the worst civilian maritime disasters in Australian history.

Launched in December and the first online-only exhibition from the AWM, Australia’s Navies: Under the Southern Cross, chronicles stories from colonial times to present day.

Commander Schroder said they wanted to showcase new perspectives and the lesser-known items, mainly drawing on the 900,000 or so objects held in storage at the national collection.

The exhibition covers military, diplomatic and constabulary operations and took three years to curate.

Novel aspects of Navy’s history are featured as well as emotional.

Viewers can see the HMAS Toowoomba custom-made drug-disposal bin ‘invented’ by the HMAS Darwin ship’s company, built by Toowoomba for their 2020 deployment and used to dispose of a record drug bust of some 3000kg of hashish and heroin in the Middle East.

Exhibits from military, peacekeeping and constabulary operations are displayed across 10 online chapters, from the telescope of HMCS Victoria to United Nations berets worn by Navy personnel on operations on the Gaza Strip.

“The purpose of the exhibition was to use the objects to commemorate Navy people and their service, provide a history of Australia’s navies and explain why Australia has a navy” Commander Schroder said.

To view the exhibition visit: