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- Biographies and personal histories
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- June 2021 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Norman (Norm) Rivett, an esteemed founding father of the Naval Historical Society, passed over the bar on 8 March 2021 just shy of his 96th birthday. He will be sorely missed.
Norman (Norm) Cecil Rivett was born in the Newcastle upon Tyne suburb of Wallsend, in northeast England, on 23 March 1925. He was the only child of Norman Cecil Rivett and Evelyn Grace Rivett (nee Dawson). Norman senior had a hard life as a coal miner, and both parents were determined that their son would receive a good education and make a career outside the pits.
Norm attended Stephenson Memorial School where he was mentored by the headmaster Mr. Jewels who gave Norm access to his personal library, thus instilling in him a love of literature. On completion of his schooling, Norm commenced an apprenticeship as a fitter and turner with Parsons Marine Steam Turbine Company, the world-renowned builder of steam turbines. As part of his apprenticeship Norm attended Wallsend Technical College. While working as an apprentice he was seconded to the Vickers-Armstrong Building Yard, at Tyneside, where destroyers, and the light fleet carrier HMS Colossus, were built during the war. On completing his apprenticeship in March 1946, he worked as a fitter with Parsons.
In October 1946, following in the footsteps of a cousin, he joined the Merchant Navy and served as a junior ship’s engineer with the British company Ellerman Lines. He subsequently passed the demanding examinations for Chief Engineer in both steam and motor ships. During a port visit to Sydney a friend introduced Norm to Patricia (Pat) Brown and two years later, in 1953, they married. Norm continued to serve in the Merchant Navy until July 1956 when he took on a temporary job in the machine shop at Garden Island Dockyard; little did he know that ‘temporary’ would mean 30 years of service on the island. Norm eventually became a Senior Technical Officer (Draughtsman) in the Naval Drawing Office at Garden Island.
Norm’s parents migrated to Australia in the late 1950s and Norm senior worked in the sheet metal shop at Garden Island Dockyard. As both father and son had the same names the senior was known as ‘Pop Rivet’ and the junior as ‘Young Norm’ and regardless of his age and seniority this nickname stuck and is still used by friends to this day.
In 1965 Norm was seconded to the Guided Missile Destroyer (DDG) building project at the Defoe Shipbuilding Company yard in Bay City, Michigan, USA where he was involved in the construction of the lead ship, HMAS Perth. This was to allow Norm to gain experience in the future maintenance of the three Charles F. Adams class destroyers built for the RAN (HMA Ships Perth, Hobart and Brisbane).
Norm retired in 1986 but soon after took on the role of Assistant Director and Curator of Marine Engineering at the Garden Island Dockyard Museum.
In 1970 Norm had also become a founding member of the Garden Island Historical Society, later renamed the Naval Historical Society of Australia (NHSA), becoming one of the longest serving members of the Garden Island fraternity and finally retiring from this work in 2018 aged 93. His knowledge of Garden Island was immense and he was the ‘go to’ consultant in finding answers to imponderable questions.
Norm is recalled as a hard-working, dedicated, cheerful and humble man who retained his Geordie accent, despite never revisiting his homeland after settling in Sydney. His wife Pat passed away in 2010 and at the time of his death Norm was living with his daughter Louise in the Sydney suburb of Panania.
Norm’s written works (always submitted in precise copperplate script) include several articles for the Naval Historical Society of Australia magazine and the following books:
The Naval Steam Reciprocating Engine. (1989)
Some aspects of RMS Titanic (1912) and her sister ships. (1993)
From Church to Chapel – A History of the Naval Chapel Garden Island. (2010)