I’ve walked through our Oberon-class submarine many times. Before the visitors arrive, it’s quiet. You can hear the creaking of the ropes that secure the sub to the wharf, and sometimes the far away voices of people in Darling Harbour. Remnants of life onboard remain – the boardgames in the mess, the roster on the wall and the ingredients in the kitchen – settled and silent. I’ve also been onboard the patrol boatAdvance and climbed up and down from the bridge to the kitchen, avoiding its sharp corners and examining the menacing-looking Bofors guns on deck. I’ve walked onboard our destroyer HMAS Vampire many times before too. It smells like the 70s. There’s linoleum throughout, a faint scent of oil and what might be the remaining tendrils of thousands of cooked dinners served in the mess. There’s a sense of chasing someone else’s long-forgotten memories down the lengthy corridors and through the maze of tunnels and ladders.
In the past nine months, in the course of researching these three vessels, I’ve also spent many hours speaking with naval personnel about their time serving on HMAS Onslow, Advance and Vampire. Through their stories, photographs and records, I got glimpses of three very alive, very dangerous and very exciting worlds. One submariner described to me the sounds that the ocean makes when it wakes in the morning, how you can hear the animals stir and react to the sun the same way that birds do at dawn. Another described the feeling, through your feet, of the submarine dashing away from the surface and diving beneath the waves. It sounded to me like the feeling of taking off in a small airplane – just going in the other direction. One ex-submarine commander talked sparingly of his involvement in covert operations onboard Oberon submarines, responding to our questions with silence and a smile.
HMAS VAMPIRE at sea, image courtesy of the Sea Power Centre Australia
I like HMAS Advance because, for me, there is a touch of magic and destiny about it. My fiancé spent his childhood in Amman, Jordan. His favourite TV shows were Skippy, The Lost Island and Patrol Boat. Perhaps it was a little intuitive of him, as they are all Australian shows and at that time he had no idea that was where his life was to lead him!
HMAS Advance - in action!
This topic came up on our first date, over a decade ago, and I think I thoroughly disappointed him when I confessed I knew of Skippy (though never watched it) but had certainly never heard of the other two programs. He lamented that since arriving in Australia he hadn’t seen them either – odd when you think about it.
Flash forward seven years and I am proudly escorting him around the museum, my wonderful new place of work. When we walked out onto the wharf he couldn’t believe his eyes – there she was, “Patrol Boat”’ he cried out. “Umm…Advance?… yep… it’s a patrol boat”, I answered surprised by his enthusiasm, “No – THE PATROL BOAT! From the TV show!” He was right, HMAS Advance starred in the popular ABC TV series from 1979 to 1983. He stood there enraptured. He had come to the other side of the world and found a link to his childhood, so far away.
So a small Armenian boy in Jordan watches his favourite TV show, Patrol Boat, never suspecting he is soon to move to Australia, where ironically he never sees Patrol Boat, grows up and marries a local girl who winds up working with Patrol Boat! Six degrees of separation or destiny…?
So what was this great show, Patrol Boat? Check it out here: