A visit aboard the HMAS Canberra by Heather B, Sue-Ellen S and Sue G

Written by ahq_admin

22 February 2023

It was a last-minute invitation to go on board HMAS Canberra, but way too good to pass up. A hastily formed tour group of Sue-Ellen S, Susan G and family, and Heather and David B were privileged to accept the invitation.

We knew the HMAS Canberra was a big ship – second in our Navy’s fleet no less (HMAS Adelaide is apparently bigger by inches because it was constructed in the Spain summer) – but to see her docked and at close quarters was nothing short of astonishing. 

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We were in awe, and that was before we had a chance to explore. We were looking forward to going aboard and out of the sun as Brisbane had turned on a scorcher.SBLT Will and then SBLT Jess were wonderful hosts – welcoming, friendly, and so informative. The initial gangway to board the ship was steep enough but the many and very steep ladder bays were at another level altogether; however, we managed without mishap.  Heather and I thought it was the smart thing to descent backwards as we’d seen often enough in the movies, but we were soon advised the correct and safer way. There are 12 levels on the ship (and according to David B’s fitness tracker we did 19 floors!!)

The size and capacity of the two lower decks astounded us, and we were imagining the area stocked with all manner of heavy vehicles; what an exercise it would be to see the loading and unloading of these. The lowest deck accommodates the landing craft (2 of 4 were there –

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and heavy machinery. The “back doors” of the ship open, water coming up to those yellow lines, the landing craft float, and reverse out with vehicles or troops on board! The next level up, connected by a big ramp, is like a big warehouse that can be filled with over 100 vehicles. Apparently, the vehicles are parked and anchored inches apart for maximising space so orchestrating that would be a feat, let alone the unloading process.

On the rear deck, flying the white ensign, we had a photo opportunity 

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SBLT Will talked about the defence weapons. “The Canberra” is always escorted by a frigate or destroyer to protect her, but just in case, it does have weapons that are operated remotely from the Control Room.

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We were lucky to have SBLT Jess show us her cabin, where her cabin mate’s bunk had a lovely AHQ; which we were very chuffed to see. (I believe this was made by Cathy Harper.) Also, Jess was proud to show us her Dhobey bag. See the AHQ Blog Thurs 4 Dec 2014 as to the origins of this term. Photo%205

It was interesting to see off-duty crew in shorts and t-shirts going about the ship in their spare time. One such sailor was obviously heading to the laundry with his AHQ bag slung over his shoulder!

Then it was to The Control Centre 

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SBLT Jess spoke of this being the area in charge of Disaster Control and DC was mentioned throughout the tour, with fire hoses and extinguishers being seen many times on each deck. We saw big chunks of wood that are used for shoring up and isolating sections in the event of inundation.We thought we did very well traversing the labyrinth of corridors and luckily had a host with us at all times, or you may never have seen us again! Even SBLT Jess said it took her a couple of weeks to get to know her way around. We were shown the Officers’ recreation area for relaxing, watching movies, playing Uckers and generally enjoying downtime. 

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Uckers can be a pretty serious game of rivalry, cheating and raucous entertainment for all. I suggest you google it as this is a game that has a long and proud history, too much to explain here. 

We also had the opportunity to see one of the three messes and the smell of freshly baking bread was delicious. SBLT Will told us the food aboard ship was excellent.

On the bow of the ship flies the Australian Flag – another photo opportunity for our group

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It features a ‘ski jump’ which caters for jet take-off, but this is not part of the Canberra’s remit. “The Canberra” does however have capability for 6 helicopters, 4 of which can land or take off at the same time. They are housed on the deck below and are raised by an enormous platform lift. It gave good perspective to be at the extreme front and to fully appreciate the length of the Canberra

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We could look up at this point to the bridge – our next stop, and up and up more steps. 

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SBLT Will’s ‘job’ on the Canberra has him located on the bridge so he could talk at length about this. It is up to one of the junior officers to ‘steer’ the ship, but this is mostly done in a technical sense. Across the Brisbane River was a Carnival Cruise ship which we seemed to tower over.  

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Not having a fear of heights, we all went out from the bridge and looked down to the wharf below where large army vehicles looked like toys.

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We were told the Canberra was launched in 2011 and still has many years of service to give.At the end of the tour SBLT Will and SBLT Jess brought us back to the Officers’ Recreation Area and were happy to field our questions about discipline, mental health of crew, support groups on board, rostering etc. We were also able to tell them how Aussie Heroes works and made sure that they knew to put in a request for a quilt when the opportunity arose.

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Our afternoon tour was now over after expressing our thanks to our wonderful guides and a thank you is also extended to Commanding Officer Hutchins for the invitation.What a great afternoon it was!

Sue-Ellen S, Heather B, Susan G.

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