Naval traditions continue as HMAS Canberra is commissioned

Last Friday saw the commissioning of the Royal Australian Navy’s newest and largest fleet member – the Landing Helicopter Dock (or LHD for short) HMAS Canberra (III).
In a short space of time and in century-old tradition, she went from being Nuship Canberra to raising the Australian white ensign for the first time as part of her formal commissioning into the Fleet.

HMAS canberra

The Royal Australian Navy’s latest helicopter, the MH60R ‘Romeo’ Seahawk, flies past the Navy’s latest ship, NUSHIP Canberra in Sydney, NSW. Courtesy Royal Australian Navy.

It was a significant moment for all those associated with the building and fitting out of the LHD, especially the tri-service ship’s company who have been training for months in preparation for the introduction of the LHD. Navy, Air Force and Army come together to operate this ship.

As well as raising the white ensign another tradition was also observed, that of the youngest member of Canberra’s ship’s company (Seaman Marine Technician Michael Lane) cutting the commissioning cake alongside Canberra’s Commanding Officer (Captain Jonathan Sadleir AM, RAN).

White ensign for HMAS Canberra

LS Stewart Thurlow raises the Australian white ensign for the first time on board the newly commissioned HMAS Canberra. Courtesy Royal Australian Navy.

In the life of a naval ship there are many ceremonial milestones including ship naming, keel laying, christening, commissioning and final decommissioning. The commissioning ceremony completes the cycle from christening and launching to bring the ship into full status as a warship of her nation.

Canberra carries a proud name indeed. The first Canberra was a heavy cruiser sunk in action at the Battle of Savo Island in August 1942. The second Canberra was a guided missile frigate and saw service during the Gulf War; she was sunk off Ocean Grove, Victoria as an artificial reef and dive wreck. In line with naval tradition, Canberra (III) inherits the battle honours from the previous two ships of the same name – East Indies 1940-41, Pacific 1941-42, Guadalcanal 1942, Savo Island 1942 and Persian Gulf 2002.

So what is Canberra going to be doing for the Royal Australian Navy? She is the lead ship of the two Canberra class amphibious assault ships designed by Spanish shipbuilders Navantia. Canberra and her sister-ship Adelaide are prefabricated in Spain and then fitted out in Melbourne. They are capable of conducting large-scale humanitarian missions and will focus on regional military support, including disasters (they can be deployed as floating hospitals and command and control centres); evacuation missions (such as a raid from the sea to recover hostages); and peacekeeping. They will also play a key role in extreme natural disasters at home.

The Canberra Class Amphibious Assault Ship concept.

An internal cross-section of the Canberra class Amphibious Assault Ship puts in perspective her ability to carry an incredible amount of vehicles, vessels and aircraft.

There are many mindboggling and impressive statistics associated with the ship. Here are a few:

  • Construction cost was $A1.5 billion;
  • She’s 230 metres long, the flight deck is eight stories above the water and as big as 24 tennis courts;
  • Canberra could sail under the Sydney Harbour Bridge – with 40 cm to spare!
  • She can embark 1,100 fully-equipped infantry troops and 110 trucks and armoured vehicles;
  • She can carry 18 helicopters (six can operate simultaneously from landing points on the flight deck);
  • Elevators and ramps are used to move vehicles, aircraft and personnel around the ship;
  • Cooks can prepare up to 6,000 meals daily;
  • There are two operating theatres and 56 hospital beds, an eight-bed critical care unit, pathology and radiology services, x-ray, pharmacy and dental facilities.
  • The ship can make 150 tonnes of fresh water per day and generate enough power to power a city the size of Darwin;
  • The heavy vehicle deck covers 1400 square metres;
  • The ship can carry 196 shipping containers;
  • The well dock holds water the equivalent of 1.2 Olympic swimming pools and has access to the open sea through the stern to allow the landing craft and other boats to sail straight in and out.

HMAS Canberra will proceed to sea in the coming weeks for a period of training and assessment for the crew. She will be home ported to Garden Island, Sydney, so take yourself down to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair and see for yourself just how impressive this new addition to the Royal Australian Navy really is.

– Lindsey Shaw (@NavyCurator), Australian National Maritime Museum Research Associate

MYRA TOO goes sailing

Myra Too, the replica of the champion 18-Foot skiff built by Billy Barnett in 1951 has been sailing for the first time early this month. The background, research and building progress have been highlighted on earlier blogs by the museum’s Digital Outreach Curator Penny Edwell.

But things have been quiet for a little while since the finished hull left boat builder Bob MacLeod’s Mona Vale shed in Spring 2013. Members of the Australian Open Skiff Trust have been diligently fitting it out while spars and sails were put together by Goldspar and Herrick Sails respectively.

Myra Too Working to windward off Bradleys head.

Myra Too Working to windward off Bradleys head.

Final details were completed over the Christmas and New Year’s break, and on the 4th of January Myra Too touched water at John Winning’s Vaucluse waterfront and was then towed across to the Sydney Flying Squadron where it will race when the season gets underway again. A nice east-nor-east breeze was blowing, so they put on the no. 2 mainsail, no. 3 jib, borrowed a spinnaker and ballooner, and took Myra Too for a first sail.  The test was a big success; Myra Too sat to her lines on its nice buoyant hull, felt balanced on the helm, accelerated well in the gusts and barely took any water- just how Billy Barnett said it should go. The longstanding sailing enthusiasts website Sailing Anarchy posted a report a few days later, complete with video footage, including Gopro camera images from on-board the boat, and references and links to the  museums role in helping with extensive research material for this replica project. Continue reading

A rainy day at Garden Island Boatshed

Naval Dockyard Police display at the Boatshed, RAN Heritage Centre, Garden Island Naval Heritage Collection Photographer Nicole Cama, ANMM

Naval Dockyard Police display at the Boatshed, RAN Heritage Centre, Garden Island
Naval Heritage Collection
Photographer Nicole Cama, ANMM

Today some of the museum’s staff braved the weather conditions to attend the launch of the Naval Historical Society of Australia’s latest documentary film, The History of the Captain Cook Graving Dock. The launch was held in the historic Boatshed building which was built in 1890 and is now part of the Royal Australian Navy Heritage Centre in Garden Island. As the rain pattered the roof of the old Boatshed, we heard senior officers of HMAS Kuttabul as well as members of the Society convey their passion for the site, as well as outline how Captain Cook Graving Dock remains an integral part of Australia’s maritime history. After the launch, my colleague Penny Hyde and I were treated to an interesting (and choppy) voyage back to the museum, aboard the museum’s RAN launch, MB 172. Thanks go to the Naval Historical Society of Australia and the Royal Australian Navy for such a well hosted event. Check out my photographs below and also our instagram feed for some more photographs from the day! Nicole Cama Continue reading

MB 172 returns to the museum

This week, MB 172 returned to the museum after its annual slipping. Looking great with a new colour scheme, the vessel can now be viewed from the museum wharves.

Photo of

MB 172 on display at the museum wharves

Continue reading

ANMM members at Garden Island

Last week on a perfect Sydney springtime day a group of museum members caught the ferry from Circular Quay to Garden Island for a fun and informative walk around the naval base with guides from the Naval Historical Society.

Although now connected to the mainland, Garden Island was originally in fact a small island that since 1788 has been used for naval purposes – from growing food to repairing naval and commerical ships. In 1946 the land between Potts Point and the island was reclaimed and the Captain Cook Graving Dock was constructed. This dock is where we take our own HMAS Vampire and HMAS Onslow for their major maintenance works.

If you haven’t been to Garden Island and soaked up some of our naval history then add it to your list of things to do. Only the northern part of the island is open to the public but it’s a nice way to spend several hours – wandering through the Naval Heritage Centre, inspecting the memorials, monuments, guns and missiles, and then climbing up the small hill and the top of the building there to get wonderful views of the cityscape and harbour.

Garden Island – Fleet Base East for the Royal Australian Navy. Photo by Lindsey Shaw

Sydney cityscape from Garden Island. Photo by Lindsey Shaw

And there are free barbeques provided so bring along a picnic. Or you can go to the Salthorse Cafe and relax by watching the harbour go by.

If you want to see more of the island than is open to the general public then keep an eye on our members’ page for our next outing to this Sydney Harbour gem.

ANMM members with one of the 105 mm guns from the WWI cruiser Emden which was defeated by HMAS Sydney in November 1914. Photographer Jeffrey Mellefont

A beautiful naval chapel

Last Sunday I attended the annual Fairmile Association Church Service in one of the most beautiful and interesting chapels around. Located on Sydney’s Garden Island – the east coast base for the Royal Australian Navy – the chapel is one of the earliest main buildings on the Island, dating from 1886. It was erected originally as a rigging house but over the years became a rather plain chapel. Gradually it metamorphosed into a delightful place of worship and reflection. The plain glass windows were replaced firstly with gelatine windows that gave an illusion of stained glass, and then real stained glass was fitted. Today, each window is a stunning naval memorial in glass.

Australia’s destroyer flotilla window

Australia’s first submarines

Although no longer used for regular worship it is a popular place for naval christenings, weddings, funerals, and memorial services. Its unique memorials in stained glass offer a virtual panorama of Australia’s naval history. If you are interested in viewing the chapel and seeing other historic parts of Garden Island, come on a tour with us. Contact for our next excursion to this special part of Sydney.

The first HMAS Melbourne

Lindsey Shaw, senior curator

Submarine ONSLOW sets sail

Today was not just another day at the office. As senior curator of the Australian naval history collection here at the museum I was very lucky indeed to have the opportunity to leave the desk and computer behind and enjoy Sydney’s autumnal weather! Our Oberon class submarine, the former HMAS Onslow is due for her four-yearly check and major maintenance at Thales Garden Island.

Boarding the submarine at 7.45 am we were soon in the capable hands of Navy’s Master Attendant Commander Glenn Thompson, who was ably assisted by Lieutenant Peter Dargan, most recently navigator on HMAS Parramatta. Three tugs masterly manoeuvred us away from the museum and we gently and gracefully headed to Garden Island – with a short interlude waiting for a large tanker to pass by.

ONSLOW is carefully pulled away from her mooring beside HMAS VAMPIRE

The view from the conning tower is nothing short of magnificent.

We head into the Captain Cook Graving Dock; HMAS PARRAMATTA is already there undergoing a refit.

ONSLOW is safely in the dock, joined by our lightship CLS4, waiting for the dock to be drained and the work to commence.

Thanks Glenn for our safe delivery to Thales.

Thanks Peter!

Lindsey Shaw, senior curator

Drat that bat

The bat is back!

Confused? So were a lot of people years ago in several cases of mistaken identity between two naval icons.

Rumour has it that HMAS Vendetta, a sister Daring class destroyer, once tried to pass herself off as Vampire but diligent stokers on another ship spotted Vampire‘s distinguishing feature – the bat.

In a separate case in 1971, The Royal Australian Navy News illustrated a story about Vendetta with an image of Vampire in action instead. Again, the Vampire bat is clearly visible:

Navy News article 'Vendetta bows to a Greenie'

The bat is clearly visible on 'Vendetta' (click on image to enlarge)

The mistake didn’t go unnoticed.

Here’s the apologetic article as it originally appeared in the next issue in September 17, 1971:

Navy News article 'Drat that Bat'

Drat that bat! (click on the image to enlarge)

Over time, the iconic bat mysteriously went missing. After serving in the Navy from 1959 to 1986, Vampire eventually came to live at the National Maritime Museum.

It’s 2010, and after a lot of searching by the Fleet Team, the bat is back! It’s been located and placed back where it belongs – on the AFT funnel.

The bat is back!

The bat is back!

Thanks to Todd, Christine, Vince, Trevor, Peter and Noel for their hard work.

HMAS Vampire will return to the ANMM on July 15 after an extensive underwater hull survey, restoration works and repairs to key elements of the ship by our Fleet team.

HMAS Vampire refit still going strong

HMAS Vampire, our 50-year old Daring Class former RAN destroyer is undergoing a three week refit and docking in the capable hands of Thales in the inner Captain Cook graving dock at Garden Island.

Preservation of such a large asset as Vampire is complex and as one can imagine a requirement to ensure the continued life of such an iconic vessel.

The hull, having been initially pressure-washed and cleaned to remove marine encrustation, is currently being prepped for repainting with modern anti foul. Works on the hull, below the water line, are going well including preservation and repairs to areas where there is an excessive build-up of corrosion.

Ultrasonic test analysis has been carried out to determine the condition and thickness of the hull plating, it’s all good news and she is in great shape!

HMAS Vampire refit work at Garden Island

HMAS Vampire refit work at Garden Island

Thales are also undertaking repairs to the interior of Vampire, including the aft passageway, known as 2 Lima and Wardroom flat 1 Foxtrot during the docking period. On vessels such as Vampire it is common for all areas to be known by an ‘address’. This address is a two-digit signifier consisting of a numerical descriptor that is unique for each deck followed by a letter that describes the area between each bulkhead compartment. This address allows areas to be easily and precisely identified in the event of fire or damage.

All work is still on schedule to be completed for Vampire to return to Darling Harbour’s Australian National Maritime Museum in all her glory on Tuesday July 13.

— Kat Lindsay

From Sailing Barges to Garden Island: The long life of some shipwright tools

The museum was recently offered a set of shipwright tools – not an unusual occurence. However with some investigation, this particular collection began to reveal an interesting story.

Just some of the Higham tools from one drawer of one of two boxes

The tools were owned by William Higham (b.1895) and his father Thomas Higham. According to Higham family history, Thomas Higham and his brother Charles ran a shipyard near Greenwich on the Thames River, London.

A photograph dated 1902 shows Thomas on the deck of the Giralda at Pipers Wharf, Greenwich. James Piper built sailing barges at this wharf he rented from late 1890s. They were heavy haulage carriers, still built with sail at a time when most vessels were steam driven. Sailing barges were cheap to run and only needed a crew of two. With their shallow draught and flat bottom they could go inshore, across shallows and up tidal creeks. Many would also cross the channel and go into European inland waters, or, with masts lowered could be used on canals – even through tunnel canals such as the one that connected the Medway with the River Thames, interestingly called the Higham Tunnel.

Thomas Higham (right) on Giralda, at Piper’s Wharf, Greenwich, 1902

The Giralda was one one of Piper’s earliest sailing barges from the 1890s and was renowned as a prize winning racing barge. Barge races are still held in Britain today.

Thomas Higham’s son William worked with his father in what according to family history was known as the Higham Shipyard, although it is unclear whether the family photograph of Thomas on the Giralda indicates he was a builder for Piper’s business, or whether he indeed had his own yard nearby.

William migrated to Australia in 1920. He was a trained naval architect and shipbuilder and entered shipbuilding work in Newcastle. When the Depression hit in 1930 he went back to England and according to his daughter Joan Copp, worked in the Higham Shipyard during the 1930s.

In 1939 William was seconded to the Australian Navy and came to Garden Island, Sydney. He continued to worked there until he reitred at the age of 65, when the naval dockyard apparently provided a ‘terrific send off’ for him.

The collection of William’s and his father’s tools remained with his family, still in its purpose built boxes. It  includes handmade wood planes, drills and drill bits, adzes, saws, caulking tools, among other items. It is a very complete range of shipwright tools, kept in good condition.  Most are engraved with the initials WH and TH. The TH initialed tools were first owned by Thomas Higham and many ended up, presumably handed down, in William’s tool boxes.

This scribing tool has the initials T H carefully punched on the arm.

Several of the Thomas Higham owned tools would appear to date from the late 1800s. William’s tool box thus contains two generations of shipwright tools – showing a great continuity of usage right up to the 1950s; a testament to their owners, as well as to the fact certain woodworking tools remained useful and unchanged over many years.

However there is little information on Higham’s Shipyard near Greenwich. If anyone can add further information to the intriguing story of the tools that appear to have worked on sailing barges in the Thames and carried on to be used at Garden Island in Sydney, please let us know!

Wood planes such as these were often handmade to suit particular tasks

16/10/2008 Day One, the Journey

Former H.M.A.S. Onslow alongside at Darling Harbour

Former H.M.A.S. Onslow alongside at Darling Harbour

The smiles were shining from all as fleet staff rolled in this morning. A mix of relief and the anticipation fed the high spirits. Relief that the occasionally strained contract negotiations with Thales, whose skilled work force will conduct the majority of the dockings tasks, had yesterday, been sealed with the flurry of a pen and a hand shake. The anticipation, for most of us, came from the action to come. Released from the constraints of working in the public domain of the museum, we could focus on the material welfare of the submarine and the exercise of some of our skills and knowledge that had been held in check. Others anticipated a leisurely cruise on a faultless Spring morning.

Navy piolt and assistants on the submaine's bridge

Navy pilot and assistants on the submarine bridge

There had been months of work preparing the sub for this day. Warwick Thompson had been crawling about amongst the tangle of pipe below the casings. With torch and note pad his inspection of the sub’s tanks and innards are the foundation of the scope of work to be conducted in the coming month. I myself had spent countless hours in strange yogic positions undoing hundreds of bolts so as to free the casings. Everyone had contributed. We had prepared, but on seeing the authoritative stride, black’ n ’whites and scrambled-egged caps of the navy pilot’s entourage, I returned to an unexpected place. Every muscle tensed a little, that whole of being feeling as you left port, like the first day of school only more solemn.

The DMS ( Defence Maritime Services ) tugs positioned themselves fore and aft and her lines drawn aboard. Our pilot, by close inspection, assures himself of their security and then takes his position aloft on the tiny bridge way up in the fin. Radio communication is tested between both lines parties, fore and aft, and the bridge. We all wait and then wait a little longer, a car carrier is coming into port. The delay seems too much for the mass of well wishers on the heritage pontoon and they disperse, perhaps they can no longer bare saying farewell? Then a scramble of activity as the tugs’ lines creak taught and the sub’s let go. A close eye is kept on the closing gap between the destroyer and sub as she turned to head out the harbour proper. Finally a miraculous turn is brought off by the forward tug, much like seeing a front rower morph into Rudolf Nuereyev, as he repositions from a push to tow.

DMS tug boats moving Onslow through Darling Harbour

DMS tug boats moving Onslow through Darling Harbour

Thanks to the skill of or navy pilot and the DMS skippers all goes smoothly on our approach to Garden Island dock yard. Once Onslow is tied up along side we secure all means of entry and leave her for the night. The museum staff will now begin the formidable task of induction into the dockyard work area, a process that in total will take a full day of instruction and evaluation.

A perfect day, a perfect harbour, a perfect tow

A perfect day, a perfect harbour, a perfect tow