Old Man’s Hat, where the 1940 inscription marking the detention of Pierre Loti was carved, offers spectacular views over South Head, the Tasman Sea and hundreds of historic inscriptions left by sailors, passengers and Sydney residents. Image: Ursula K Frederick, Sydney Harbour National Park.
Saigon bristled with terror in April 1975. As shelling and small-arms fire sounded out an ever-shrinking cordon around the South Vietnamese capital, wails of a different kind split the airspace above the city. On board a Royal Australian Air Force Hercules aircraft, over 200 traumatised children and infants – primarily orphans – were being tended by nurses, doctors and military personnel. Leaving Ton Son Nhat airport on 3 April, these bewildered passengers were then transferred to a Qantas flight bound for Sydney. Numbering among the 2500 children scooped up by ‘Operation Babylift’, they arrived at North Head Quarantine Station just weeks ahead of the final collapse of South Vietnam.
Oddly enough, the Babylift children were not the first displaced Vietnamese to be held at North Head. It would be another year before the earliest refugee boats – the vanguard of a rickety flotilla escaping the humanitarian crisis afflicting Southeast Asia – landed on northern Australian shores. Although two small groups of these arrivals were briefly accommodated at Sydney’s Quarantine Station in 1977, in April 1975 only the Babylift evacuees were being tended by nurses and community volunteers at this hilly headland near Manly.
Much of David Mearns work as a shipwreck hunter is the analysis of images and sonar scans. Image: David Mearns.
“People think ‘That was it, the deep oceans became accessible to man with Titanic in 1985’. Well, that’s completely false.”
David Mearns is one of the world’s pre-eminent shipwreck hunters. His company, Blue Water Recoveries, has an 88% recovery rate. He discovered the HMAS Sydney, and the Kormoran, the HMS Hood, the Royal Navy flagship sunk by the Bismarck, Vasco da Gama’s Esmerelda (which sunk in 1503), the Lucona a cargo ship sunk by a time bomb that murdered its crew and the Rio Grande, the deepest shipwreck ever found – at 5,762 metres.
How to Become a Shipwreck Hunter
But Mearns wasn’t interested in history at University. He actively avoided it, instead, he concentrated on getting degrees in marine biology and later, marine geology. He found work in the offshore industry, helping search and recovery for the US Navy. This is what sparked his now lifelong obsession as a shipwreck hunter: part detective, part archaeologist, part deep ocean adventurer – and historian.
His passion for the stories of the past drives him thousands of metres below the waves.
Behind the scenes at the ANMM – a conservation perspective
In late May, the Conservation Department at the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM) welcomed me for three weeks as an intern to learn about the role of conservation within the museum, as well as further my understanding of the role a conservator has in caring for a collection. I spent my time at the ANMM constantly shadowing the various members of the conservation team.
Misenum in miniature. An up close look at the diorama created by Geoff Barnes and Roger Scott for Escape from Pompeii. Image: Andrew Frolows / ANMM.
In 79 AD Mount Vesuvius erupted, sealing nearby Pompeii and Herculaneum into time capsules that would not be reopened for many centuries, and which have been incredibly rich historical and romantic resources for today’s world.
The eruption was clearly visible from the Roman navy’s major port-city of Misenum, along the coast at the northern end of the Gulf of Naples. In response, the admiral of the fleet, Pliny the Elder, ordered his ships to go to the rescue. It is one of the first recorded attempted rescues of civilians by sea by a military force.
Alison Stillwell receiving Margaret Brock relics via scissor-lift, for incorporation into the developing Margaret Brock Room. (Photo: May McIntosh)
Alison Stillwell is a volunteer and Secretary of the Kingston SE Branch, National Trust SA. She has recently coordinated a project, partially funded by Maritime Museums of Australia Project Support Scheme (MMAPSS), called the ‘Margaret Brock Room Development’ within the Cape Jaffa Lighthouse. She shares with us her experience of managing the project and the significant events that their organisation celebrated last November.
The museum visitor app, available for iOS and Android. Image: ANMM.
Enrich your visit to the museum with our new Visitor App. Built for iOS and Android, the App features seven themed self-guided audio tours, six highlight tours as well as great photos, event and exhibition info, maps and amenities.
This memorial to British children evacuated to Australia in 1940 also commemorates the local women who looked after them at Sydney’s Quarantine Station. Image: Ursula K Frederick, Sydney Harbour National Park.
The Polish passenger liner MV Batory seems an odd ship to be commemorated at Sydney’s North Head Quarantine Station, as it never moored there. Yet its presence is captured in concrete: ‘BRITISH EVACUEE / CHILDREN / ARRIVED 16TH OCTOBER / 1940. M.S. BATORY / VA + DS’, followed by 37 names etched into four neat panels.
In fact, despite outbreaks of influenza, measles and ‘school sores’, the Batory was never quarantined. Rather, for the British children it rushed to Sydney in 1940, North Head represented a safe haven from German bombers and invasion scares.
HMAS Waterhen in Sydney Harbour, c1925–33. ANMM Collection 00021576.
The 9th of December 2016 is the 75th anniversary of the lifting of the siege of Tobruk, the port on the north coast of Libya that proved such a thorn in the side of German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel during the eight months that the siege lasted. The Australian War Memorial describes it as one of the longest sieges in British military history.
Whenever the siege of Tobruk is remembered, the Australian soldiers, who formed the greater part of the garrison for most of the time, are quite rightly afforded pride of place.
Portrait of a baby and a dog on a ship. Image: Samuel Hood / ANMM Collection 00023789.
Cats, dogs, monkeys and birds have been cherished on board ships for as long as people have made sea voyages. In a life from which children and families are usually missing, and are often very much missed, pets provide a focus for emotions and affection – although cats and dogs may have been expected to earn their keep catching mice and rats, too.
A glimpse of some traditional boats: Fifty-six days in Sulawesi, Indonesia, 2015
This visit began in Manado at the northern tip of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi and included a ferry journey from Gorontalo to Ampana via the Togean Islands, a week’s stay in Tentena on the shores of Lake Poso, three weeks in the Toraja highlands, a few days in Makassar and four days at Bira Beach on the southern tip of Sulawesi.
Throughout much of the journey I rendered many drawings directly from life and they include a number of studies of traditional boats. It’s these images that I wish to share along with these notes, visuals and maps about boatbuilding in Sulawesi, and its wider context.
HMAS Sydney in the Firth of Forth when she was operating in the North Sea as part of the part of the British Grand Fleet. Image: author’s collection.
Australian Naval Historian and author Dr David Stevens will present the annual Phil Renouf Memorial Lecture on Thursday 31 March 2016.Phil Renouf was the much-loved and highly respected leader of Sydney Heritage Fleet and this annual lecture series honours his significant contribution to Australian maritime heritage.
HMAS Sydney’s victory over SMS Emden in November 1914 marked an important milestone in the war at sea. But in no way was this the end of Australia’s naval war, and it certainly did not herald Sydney’s departure from our naval history. Indeed, the cruiser remained extremely busy throughout the Great War, roaming all over the world and achieving a number of naval firsts.
HMAS Vampire’s crew boarding at Williamstown after refit, 1971. Image Sea Power Centre – Australia
Terry Gaffney describes his experience serving on our ex-Navy destroyer HMAS Vampire. This blog post is part of a series written by sailors who served on the vessels inside our Action Stations Experience.
I have so many memories of my service aboard two daring class destroyers (HMAS Vampire and HMAS Vendetta). As a leading cook, basically same stories apply to both. We did some good missions of help aboard them, notably in 1974 whilst on Vendetta going to Darwin on a relief mission, but on both warships we rescued stranded boats and did other rescue ops.
Phil McKendrick describes his experience serving on our ex-Navy destroyer HMAS Vampire. This blog post is part of a series written by sailors who served on the vessels inside our Action Stations Experience.
Here are some of my experiences on board HMAS Vampire from 1972 to 1976.
I was actually first posted to HMAS Sydney directly after my engineering course in July 1972. When we were getting prepared to take Sydney out of refit I was asked if I wanted to go to destroyers. I certainly wanted to serve on board a gun ship and volunteered.
HMAS Vampire at sea, 1966. Image Sea Power Centre – Australia
David Simpson describes his experience serving on our ex-Navy destroyer HMAS Vampire. This blog post is part of a series written by sailors who served on the vessels inside our Action Stations Experience.
I was nervous. I was 21 and it was my first time at sea.
Typical of the Navy, I had been trained to maintain the gunnery system on board but had been allocated as the offsider to the petty officer in charge of navigational aids –gyro compasses, plotting tables, echo sounders, signalling lamps, masthead obstruction lights – none of which I had been trained to maintain.
My uncle John Messenger, known as Jack, was born in Ballarat, Victoria. He became a fitter and turner and studied to be a draughtsman. He was the eldest son, with six siblings. My father Albert was the second youngest. Jack was 20 when he was born.
Jack moved to Melbourne and enlisted in the Royal Navy as a crew member on the Australian Station in 1909.