HMAS Arunta is an ANZAC class frigate, FFH 151, motto: “Conquer or Die”. The name and motto recognise the ship’s history and special relationship with the Arrernte Aboriginal people of Central Australia. The ship’s mascot is a perentie lizard, from the dreamtime of the Arrernte people.
Some years ago my grandchildren and I enjoyed a private tour of HMAS Warramunga, hosted by a recipient, while the frigate was alongside in Hobart. Unfortunately, for the last three years, public tours had not been available on visiting ships (the dratted Covid), so I was quite excited when I read that HMAS Arunta was in Port for a few days for the Hobart Regatta. I made a quilt last year featuring Arunta for a former crew member, but unfortunately I didn’t have any contacts on board.
Unable to find any information about public tours, I made a last minute call for help from someone who has contacts in the right places (Jan-Maree). Let me see what I can do, she said, though she was doubtful, given the short notice. But never doubt the generosity of our navy and their appreciation for what we do, with emails and messages flying around the country. Within a short time, it was arranged.
First thing Saturday morning, I received a phone call from Command Warrant Officer Rachael, with the offer to attend a private tour that afternoon, to be escorted by LEUT N. CWO Rachael mentioned she had received an AH Quilt nine years ago, and it was on her rack as we spoke. She loves it – see below*.
So, at 1pm sharp, we joined a number of potential RAN recruits and their families at the Port gate, waiting to visit, as well as Tasmanian crew members’ families. I had a chat with the local Navy Recruiting Centre girl while we waited. She told me she had attended the AHQ Annual Dinner last year (2022) and had won the Signature quilt in the live auction. Impressive! She said she hadn’t had the chance to receive one during her previous deployments but was determined to get one, even if she had to pay for it!
LEUT N came to meet us, in his pristine white uniform, how do they keep them so clean??? There was a slight hiccup, in that the Port Security guard wouldn’t let anyone through who wasn’t on his list, which seemed to have only the recruiting group members. So despite assurances that we and others were guests of crew, we had to be added to his list. But nothing is quite so simple, at least not for the Port Authority. Phone calls had to be made, emails had to be sent, and so on until finally, after nearly 30 minutes, we were on the list. (I must say, it was all very friendly, just slightly puzzling to all.) We headed off, up the gangway and on board.
Our guide LEUT N is the AWEEO: A/Weapons Electrical Engineer Officer – so he knows an awful lot about the weapons defence system, (well, it is his job and area of expertise). He led the way, via the empty helicopter hangar , through corridors, up and down ladders, here and there. I suspect it would be quite easy to get lost. We looked at the torpedoes, the missile launchers and the big gun (not sure that is the technical name). Apart from the side torpedos, the helicopters also can launch anti-submarine torpedos. I should have taken notes, but suffice to say, they are all very fast, very accurate, travel astonishing distances (to the horizon and more) and cost an unbelievable amount. Not surprisingly, live ones are not often used for target practice!
Listening to the specs of the torpedoes, made me think of my late father, who flew Beaufort torpedo bombers in the RAF/RNZAF during WW2 over the English Channel and North Sea. He wrote that the 18’’ Mk XII torpedoes’ optimum drop distance was 600m from the target ship, from a straight and level approach at an altitude of 60-70 feet, at a flying speed of 200-300mph. How things have changed.
We had the chance to hold an inactive ‘bullet’ for the big gun. They are very, very heavy. It was quite amusing watching a sailor handing it around to the potential recruit group, as it was clear they hadn’t expected it to be so heavy. (Of course, all safety precautions taken and there was no risk of it being dropped on toes…)
We then inspected the firefighting equipment, both the personal sets in cabins which basically would allow a person to get to the desk safely, and the proper firefighting suits with self-contained/compressed air breathing apparatus – known as OCCABA#. My grandson tried one on for size, with the Star Wars like multi visored helmet.
#When I hear the word “Occaba” I had a light bulb moment, so I will digress here. Back at the 2019 AHQ dinner, I sat next to the WO from HMAS Ballarat. He won the Navy teddy bear silent auction. Some months later, the bear had enlisted in the RAN and featured in an AHQ blog “LS Don Occaba, roving reporter on HMAS Canberra” (8/7/2020). I puzzled over his name, figuring it was an in-Navy joke, but couldn’t find out its meaning. So now I know, presumably in case of fire or toxic fumes, the order is to ‘don OCCABA’. Here is a little picture of LS Don Occaba, in his camos, taken from the blog and my grandson, slightly swamped by the jacket.
We visited the Officers Mess, where we met the Captain, Commander Jace and some other WEEOs. The Captain demonstrated his ability to do lightning outfit changes, appearing firstly in casual black clothes and then minutes later in his smart white uniform to receive some HMAS Arunta 1 WW2 memorabilia from a local family. The Captain said the ability to do a speedy uniform change while keeping their room tidy, was one of the exercises at officers college!
Also in the Mess, was scale size model perentie lizard, painted in bright indigenous colours and patterns.
LEUT N showed us his six rack cabin, which he commented was quite spacious, (it must be a bit crowded when there are six in situ?) and the CWO had given permission for us to have a peek at hers too, to see her green quilt featuring pink pigs*. The racks are quite narrow, so it makes sense that our quilts are made to a uniform narrow width.
Everyone I spoke with knew of Aussie Hero Quilts & LBs, and appreciated what we do. LEUT N said there were quite a few Dhobi bags on board. A sailor who was taking a tour of the potential recruits assured me his Marvel themed Dhobi Bag was the best in the whole navy! One of the WEEOs had received his Dhobi Bag last year, he simply asked for ‘green’ (the colour for engineers). He loves it and commented on the sewing detail. (Dhobi bags are the Navy term for laundry bags. A Dhobi in Hindi was a traditional washerman or laundryman.)
In conclusion, a fabulous outing to HMAS Arunta on a beautiful Hobart afternoon. Many thanks to the contacts behind the scenes who organised the visit for us, and to LEUT N, CWO Rachael and Captain Jace for their hospitality on board.