National Archives of Australia

Issue 8 October 2012

What a gem! Private Finn the ‘goldfish’ reporting for duty

Archives staff often unearth exciting or unusual records from among the millions of items held in the collection. The ‘What a gem!’ series showcases amazing finds from the Archives’ holdings. In this issue, we meet a young Western Australian keen to do his national duty.

In July 1958, Michael David Finn, a student at the University of Western Australia, registered for national service. This wasn’t unusual – under the National Service Act 1951, young men were required to sign up for 176 days of service. Mr Finn requested that his national duty be performed during the summer break, so as not to interfere with his studies for a Bachelor of Science.

Michael Finn’s registration for national service. NAA: K852, FINN M D

The Department of Labour and National Service posted Mr Finn of 1 Cooper St Nedlands his registration card, only for it to be returned ‘Unknown at this address’.

Suspecting something was a bit fishy about Mr Finn, the department’s Regional Director, Mr White – obviously a public servant to his bootstraps – duly wrote to the Vice-Chancellor to check whether there was a Michael David Finn among the student population.

The university’s registrar confirmed the department’s suspicions: ‘As far as we know, Michael David Finn is a goldfish who resides in the University pond’.

The registrar also revealed that Mr Finn had ambitions beyond the four walls of his ornamental pond – he had run for election to the Guild Council the previous year. (Alas, he didn’t succeed but did receive some votes.)

Proving even public servants have a sense of humour, Mr White wrote to his Central Office, suggesting the story be included in the department’s fortnightly newsletter: ‘The extract might be rounded off by saying that WA Region obviously has a “pool” of registrants, but in this case the registrant concerned was granted exemption on medical grounds – water on the brain!’

Residence of ‘Mr Finn’, University of Western Australia, photographed 1946. NAA: A1200, L6334 (digitally altered image)

Want more?

View the registration file of Michael David Finn

Fact sheet 163 – National Service, 1951–59

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