I have something a little different for you tonight and I do hope not too many of you read it last night when it was published momentarily by accident as I hadn’t finished editing it at that stage.
Last year when I met with HMAS Toowoomba’s chaplain I asked him if it would be possible to write a bit a piece that would give you an idea of what it is like on board Toowoomba during this deployment.  He was kind enough to agree and althought he is very busy whilst at sea he managed to put something together for us and get it approved by the Captain.

I hope you enjoy the read.


HMAS Toowoomba sailed on 28 Dec for a 5 month deployment to the Middle East in support of OP SLIPPER. This is a deployment that would primarily have the ship conducting operations in support of anti-piracy and anti-drug smuggling activities.  However, as Navy is often used to support wider Government interests, Toowoomba’s deployment will include port visits and exercises that further enhance Australia’s reputation and engagement with the international community.

So under that context, Toowoomba sailed after spending the good part of 12 months getting the ship ready to deploy with 190 officers and sailors onboard.  The navy is about going to sea, so this deployment is not that different, except the preparations are more arduous and the length of the deployment is longer than usual.  However, for over a third of our ship’s company, Toowoomba is their first ship and for more than half, this is their first Middle East deployment. 

As we sailed, 190 families were left behind to deal with the next 5 months without their husband, wife, partner, mother, father, daughter, son, friend … being around.  So as you sail there is an immediate sense of excitement about what awaits, but tinged with the knowledge of the stresses of relationship that will occur during the deployment.

Quickly Toowoomba slips into routine, Defence Watches commence with a large number of the ship’s company operating in a 12 hours on, 12 hours off routine, thus allowing the ship to operate 24/7.  This routine is supported by the remainder of the ship’s company who are day hands; aside from working a full day, they are also called upon at all hours to conduct extra duties, such as boats parties, boarding teams, aircraft launching and recovery, replenishment at sea, and the myriad of activities that occur in a warship.

Toowoomba’s deployment typically consists of 2-3 week patrols with short 3-5 day port visits at the end of each patrol.  During the patrol the ship; will be a deterrent to piracy and smuggling by her mere presence, will conduct boarding operations of suspect vessels, and engagement and exercises with other navies operating in the Area of Operation.   

On completion of a patrol the ship will conduct visits to Middle Eastern ports for operational, logistical and rest and respite reasons.  During these port visits the ship’s company can expect to have 1-2 days short leave.  And then Toowoomba sails again…

Life at sea can be challenging.  Toowoomba is 118m of steel, so there is not a lot of opportunity for 190 sailors to have ‘me’ time.   Our sailors typically live in 12 person mess decks which are only really designed for sleeping and getting dressed, with their only recreation space being the Junior Sailors’ Cafe (dining room).   That said, although limited in size and equipment, the ship has gym which is well utilised by the ship’s company.  We also have a Physical Training Instructor embarked who conducts daily PT classes to challenge all fitness levels – this is in addition to his seamanship duties.

There are also issues that emerge as simple as a breakdown in the commercial dishwasher.  Which now means all hands need to pitch in to establish a routine to hand wash the dishes produced from 200 meals, 3 times a day.  Or the daily sorting of rubbish.  For environmental reasons, nothing but food scraps goes over the side, therefore every day, sailors are down on the Quarterdeck sorting rubbish into crushables and non-crushables until it can be landed at our next port visit.

Then there is the long time away from home and the limited contact with loved ones.  Whilst at sea, contact with family and friends is primarily through email and low bandwidth internet.  However, there is still great joy on the sailors’ faces when mail bags arrive.  There is a real lift in the morale as letters and parcels are opened and pawed over.

Deploying with the Navy is challenging, so why do we do it?  Well, the reasons are many and varied, but some of the themes that tend to resonate throughout ship include the time old privilege of the opportunity to serve one’s country and perhaps make a difference for the better.  Tied in with this is the professional pride that one develops in doing an important job well and when comparing yourself to other nations, observing that our sailors are as good, if not better, than anyone else in the world.  Other reasons for serving in warships is it is something different – it is often described as an adventure where you get to experience things and have opportunities that just don’t exist out in the mainstream civilian world.  Plus, there is the added bonus of visiting interesting places and experiencing different cultures.  Finally, there is the sense of belonging and mateship in the Navy that is often absent in many other walks of life.

Thank you so much to the Chaplain for taking the time to write and send that to me for publication.

I think you will find the next couple of messages interesting too.  I always wondered at the number of requests for cartoon characters but I understand a little better having read the following.  And come to think of it, even I wore a silver Mickey Mouse watch during the years of my time in the RAAF as an Air Traffic Controller so I guess I can relate.

Dear Julie-Ann, 

I would firstly like to start by sending a big thankyou to you and all the quilters for such an amazing idea and for being a part of such a wonderful organisation. It is a great idea and brings a smile to everyone’s faces when we receive something in the mail, especially something like this so thankyou. 

Secondly, the quilt was amazing! 

I loved the pirates and they look great against the background, I just thought that pirates might be better than something too naval themed. Alot of people take their own quilts and sheets to sea with them to brighten up their cabin (mostly funny children’s sheets likes car’s and barbies quite funny actually, one person I knew was known for having temper tantrums and he had an incredible hulk doona cover).  I don’t do this mostly because its a bit of a fight to get your sheets put through the washers and dryers, however when you use the ships provided ones, although they are a boring plain blue they are all washed together and you don’t have to worry about keeping an eye on their washing progress throughout the day.  So I thought pirates might be a perfect nautical theme that isn’t too naval and will not only brighten my cabin, but hopefully others when they see it, and this pattern is perfect. Somehow you managed to do all this with the extra laundry bag as well! So thankyou so much! I love both the quilt and the laundry bag, I think i have sparked some curious eyes around the ship with it already, leading to a few more emails no doubt. l definitely plan on taking it home to show my family how wonderful it is, I also mentioned it in a recent email I sent to my mum, how excited I was to receive it when I got the email telling me that it had been shipped over. 

Oh and how it reminds you of Pirates of The Caribbean, ironically its one of my favourite movies and I am one of those annoying people who can recite movie upon movie, and Pirates of the Caribbean is one of them.  So thankyou, the thought and work that must have gone into the quilt is very much appreciated. 

I cannot thank you enough for you kind letter, the quilt and the laundry bag… they are already in use!   

The delicious coffees, mentos and paper were very much appreciated also.

And for Kitty who is a Toowoomba girl, who made a quilt for a fellow from Toowoomba who is posted and deployed on HMAS Toowoomba!

Good Morning from the Middle East,
I would like to say thank you very much for the quilt of which I just received recently it made my day. It is very kind of you guys to do this for us and we all appreciate it very much. The quilt is extremely well made and I have had it on my rack since the first day of receiving it. It was also great to have a read of what is happening back home in Toowoomba and munch on some snakes. 🙂

My mother lives in XXXXXX and I’m looking forward to going back home to QLD to see the family and relaxing after this deployment. Again thank you very much for the quilt, it was very kind and I appreciate the time and effort it takes to make them. I have attached a photo when I received the quilt. 

Thanks and Regards,

And just to end off I thought you might enjoy seeing the view from the decks of HMAS Toowoomba!

Till next time……………..keep spreading the word and happy stitching!