I'm half an hour or so early, so to I buy my ticket and head across to the Opera House to get a look at the ships from there first thing. There's almost noone about. Cleaners are sprucing up the Opera Bar area. I join the maintenance mood and take a seat to apply some sunscreen. It's a cool grey day in Sydney, which is good for wandering about but no so good for the photography and of course the cloud cover doesn't do much to prevent skin damage.
The view across the harbour to towards the East this early is also brilliant glare from the rising sun and is all gold and grey silhouettes, but there they are all anchored around out in full view as per the plan on the Navy website (naturally). I can hardly wait.
Heading back to the quay, the Lady Herron is loitering in readiness for heading in to pick us up...
The small crowd assembling to board the ferry is a mix of ages. Mainly older people, but there are some families and at least one high school student in uniform, skipping a few classes to come and greet the fleet.. good on him!! I take a seat up on the bow and get chatting with an older lady and an English gent who are both as excited as I am to be part of the day's celebrations. The English chap has nice things to say about the heritage centre at Garden Island which he visited earlier in his holiday. Another man is ex-Navy and there is sharing of info pamplets and a real spirit of community and celebration among us all.
We get underway and the first ship we pass is HMAS Sydney (guided missile frigate) who has the honour role today. She is anchored in prime position off Farm Cove where anyone wishing to watch the show from shore will get a pretty good view.
I am absolutely delighted to find that the Greet the Fleet ferry has a detailed naval commentary! My video attention and skills, not to mention technological capacity, leave something to be desired, but fortunately much of the commentary is easily heard as we pass the vessels, so some readers may be interested in that.
In the following video we move across and you get a view of Garden Island naval dockyards. Note the very large crane visible in the stilled frame.. that's the Hammer Head Crane. Built in the 1950s it is the largest crane in Australia..
Next we visit HMAS Anzac and get a run down on her role and capability...
....then HMAS Bandicoot and her sister, HMAS Wallaroo, tugs converted for duty as auxiliary mine sweepers and based out of HMAS Waterhen, which these days is a land based facility on the shores of Sydney Harbour at Waverton, and the Navy's lead facility in mine warfare.
The Navy website tells us that "Waterhen is the second commissioned unit to carry the name. The first, the 'Chook', as she was affectionately known by her Ship's Company, was one of four 'V' Class Destroyers built in England in 1918. " She sank in 1941 after being attacked while serving in the Mediterranean en route to Tobruk. Amazingly though the ship was fatally damaged, there was not a single injury!
On we go to HMAS Stuart and thence to to HMAS Manoora, the sister ship to HMAS Kanimbla. We watch the ship's company march out onto the deck as we listen to our commentary on the ships role and statistics
.. sister ships indeed later in the day Manoora moors up alongside Kanimbla the crew having to walk across Kanimbla to get to the dock.. aaahhh....
The eastern limit of our tour is HMAS Sydney (the memorial) at Bradley's head. A very important Navy memorial constructed of the mast of the HMAS Sydney I , our commentator informs us that the memorial was established by popular demand when the ship was decommissioned and all naval vessels from all countries entering Sydney Harbour salute this memorial. There is a history of HMAS Sydney I's distinguished career on the Navy website.
We start to turn to the south and loop back towards the quay, slowly passing HMAS Sirius, a supply tanker, and watch as they lower a boat with a couple of sailors aboard. There's lots of these little IRB type support boats zipping around the harbour this morning..
On to HMAS Success, an Auxiliary Oiler Replenishment (AOR) vessel. As we pass Success - who has my full cinematic attention - we are actually listening to commentary about the "mine hunters coastal" visible from the other side of the ferry! What can you do when you are surrounded? Aaagh!
These minehunters, Diamantina, Yarra, Gascoyne, and Norman (all named after Australian rivers) are Huon class vessels and the Navy website - where you can find a detailed run down on all the navy ships - tells us that these are the most advanced vessels of their type in the world. Australia needs a state of the art capability in mine warfare. Those who have watched the video will be aware that Australian trade is particularly vulnerable to mine warfare, there being half a dozen "choke" points around our coastline. Behind the minehunters in the next video that hulking great vessel is HMNZS Canterbury (see below).
On we go and in the foreground with HMAS Kanimbla behind moored up at Garden Island.. ......we come to HMAS Farncombe. Farncombe is usually based in Perth and it is a pleasure to have her visit us!
Our passengers give the crew of Farncombe a wave and are greeted in response by some officers, the sailors of course standing for review are not able to wave their arms around willy nilly.
Moving on from Farncombe we get a bit of run down on HMAS Darwin, one of the sister ships of HMAS Sydney, and our distinguished guest HMNZS Canterbury. Always great to have our Kiwi brothers and sisters a part of our celebrations. The Dutch built Canterbury is an impressive vessel designed for ship to land transfer of personnel and stores when there is no port available.
We are approaching Garden Island where I plan to alight to visit the heritage centre and grounds and view the fly past and 21 gun salute when the time comes. I can't believe I've never made it to Garden Island before.
We are assembled by an authoritative fellow who informs us all that he is head of security. He gives us a detailed run down on what we will find onsite and a rough estimate of how long it will take to go through the heritage centre (how thoughtful), how to access it (buy an entry token from the cafe), ferry services to get off the site, and finally, a warning not to follow anyone through the sliding grey security gates heading down to the naval secure area.
It's now after 9am and with the fly past etc at 10 ish most people make a bee line towards the heritage centre which has been estimated at requiring 45 mins (not if you watch the videos !!). I on the other hand have another priority. Around the foreshore area are arrayed a series of memorials. One in particular I believe I already know what it is. It is a large green piece of a ship. Has to be part of HMAS Parramatta I and that is top priority for my visit.
On my way over I pause to read the memorial to AE2 a submarine that served in the Gallipoli campaign. Very interesting indeed.
The HMAS Parramatta memorial is next. HMAS Parramatta I was the first ship built for the Australian Navy. The link will give a detailed run down on her service. My interest has been piqued by my trip on the Riverboat Postman during which we saw what's left of the Parramatta lying as something of an eyesore at a pretty spot north of Milson Island called Cascade Gully. Apparently this is the bow, the stern having made a memorial at Queens Wharf Parramatta.
Nearby are a couple of trees planted in memorium of the various HMAS Parramattas of which there are three. The current HMAS Parramatta being the fourth to bear the name.
You can see in the picture that lovely gum is one of the memorial trees. HMAS Darwin behind at anchor in the harbour.
I take my time moseying around paying respects to memorials for HMAS Canberra, Shropshire, Australia, Manoora, Kanimbla, Westralia and Corvettes as a class. From there I go to check out the Salthorse Cafe. This is an atmospheric place that serves a range of light meals and snacks. Very busy today, I take the opportunity to buy my entry token. Arranged around the hall ships crests, a ships figure head and some rather sizeable and significant objects.
The first to grab your attention as you come is is a very large stone Japanese lantern. This lantern was removed from ground zero at Hiroshima after WWII. The twin of it remains in the Hiroshima peace park in Japan. Wow. Noone is going to fail to be reminded of those events with that sitting right there were you almost trip over it.
Further down towards the back of this large space is the section of the Japanese mini-sub that attacked Sydney in 1942. . there's an accompanying video that runs for about 15 mins (we were told) but there's a fellow already watching it. I plan to come back for that.
Nearby is a whaler and I read with interest about the competitions that were run for many years in these boats. The whaler is a charismatic open sailing boat made from timber, pretty much the same sort as was used in colonial days and by the explorers. They were used in training to teach the sailors seamanship. I guess the replacement for these must be the sailing boats we watched flying the Navy colours in the harbour this morning.
Also here in the hall is a boom boat, used to maintain the boom nets, one of which entangled one of the mini subs in the attack on Sydney.
Behind is a machine gun. Recognisable from photos of WWII battles. I'm sure I've seen photos of this gun in use in Tobruk... and a rare example - one of only two known in the world- of a surface fired torpedo - missing the warhead of course.
No time now to go into the heritage centre and make it out in time for the rest of the celebrations so I make my way up to the lookout. It's a steep climb with numerous stairs along the way but the views are pretty good. Would be 360 degrees around the harbour but the vegetation obstructs on most sides. The view towards the Opera House and bridge however has been lopped regularly and have a great view straight down to HMAS Sydney sitting off Farm Cove. A small but steady stream of mainly Navy personnel are arriving and taking up possies. Finally an officer nearby points out that the Governor of NSW, Marie Bashir is in the Governors Barge - Blue - and approaching HMAS Sydney from the Governors steps near the Opera House. Crowds are gathered all around Mrs Macquarie's chair and the railings of the opera house to watch. Various mainly commercial tour vessels are standing around in great position to enjoy the display. From where we are, we see a puff of white smoke then several seconds later we get the report of the gun. Lots of smoke builds up as the 21 shots are fired. The Governor proceeds around the harbour to review the fleet, followed by a flottilla of these other craft making the most of this spendid opportunity. In a way I kick myself that I didn't think of looking into one of these cruises, that would be pretty awesome, especially if they have a good commentary... but I'm happy enough where I am.
Only helicopters in the Navy Air Wing these days, the fixed wing aircraft losing out when we decommissioned the aircraft carrier, but they make a fine show flying in formation overhead and down to the bridge before banking around and making a return flight up the harbour. The flag meanwhile is continuing to do the rounds. All very entertaining.
Finally the show is pretty much done and I read the plaques informing about the view on various angles and head down to explore the grounds. Before long I come to a splendid view of Pinchgut and stop to read the explanatory sign positioned right were you can read it while admiring the view. FINALLY somewhere that acknowledges that Fort Denison is popularly known as Pinchgut! They have reason also as apparently, while troublesome convicts were deposited there for periods will little food to quiet them down, pinchgut is also a nautical term that means a narrowing of channel waters.. you learn something new every day. hmm.
I also admire a lovely view of HMAS Darwin before moving on.
Closeby along this path I come across a nice little shelter with glass walls protecting the earliest know European graffiti known from the colonial period. Carved initials in the sandstone dated 1788. There is a wonderfully informative information board that also explains how Garden Island came by the name. I'm learning plenty about my home town today!! Apparently this island is the site where the British Navy set about trying to grow fresh food when they arrived - with no water sources on the island the attempt was pretty much doomed, but right to the present day there we have it. Garden Island. It is of course still well named as there is a large expanse of pleasant grassy and shady picnic spots and gardens for our common enjoyment. Looking at the engraved initials my thoughts are drawn to the aboriginal rock engravings in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. Our modern ideas of conservation are pretty silly really. We have taken a view that if we touch the engravings they cease to be "original". If we clean or maintain a building does it cease to be original? Do we just let these things gradually cease to be. I was watching "Tales of the Palaces" the other night and they were showing a restoration of an ornate chimney at Hampton Court. They were essentially rebuilding it with handcarved individual bricks same as the originals. Should THAT not be done? Obviously what must be done to maintain these glorious buildings should surely apply to sandstone engravings whether aboriginal or some european sailor or outcast who carved their initials. These initials are partially almost indistinguishable. I really think they should maintain them as the aboriginal people did and want to continue doing in our National Parks... ... .... .... ..... rant over...
By now I am ready for the RAN Heritage Centre.... let it simply be said that this is a very interesting and well put together museum. They include a range of the formal and quirky and of course all of it is precious. Among them is a brass whatsit from the Perth - lost in battle of Sunda Straight, her survivors endied up on the Thai - Burma Railway. Among them was Ray Parkin who wrote so eloquently about his experiences in his trilogy: Out of the Smoke, Into the Smother and The Sword and the Blossom through which the heroism of Weary Dunlop first started to become widely known.
Also on display are the ceremonial drums. Their manufacture used all of the silver on the east coast of the country at the time. Presented to the Navy by the various Australian governments both Federal and State each beautiful drum adorned with the coat of arms of the Government that donated it. Beautiful.
For the quirky there is the competition to defend Esther's honour. I can't remember the name properly. A picture of the million dollar mermaid (Esther Williams) all legs and swimsuit, which became a prized and humorous trophy mounted in a life buoy sort of frame. I note that the rules of the trophy include that the winner is not allowed to lock the trophy away (presumably fellow crew still want the opportunity to admire the bathing beauty!!) and it is quite legitimate for Esther to be abducted by all sorts of dubious tactics! What a shame it would have been if these artifacts had been lost to us!
I'm about to perish for lack of sustenance by now and head down to the cafe, but it is struggling to cope with the huge demand today. I finally give up on my order and head for the wharf (a refund and compensatory banana bread cheerfully and apologetically given). I'm determined to see a movie before it's time to go home and if I miss this ferry there's a gap in service that would make that impossible. My bag equipped with binoculars, spare batteries and goodness knows what, is heavy today and I'm well pleased to have some concentrated sit down and self indulge time.
A few minutes wait and our friendly head of security calls to all that the ferry is approaching and right on schedule a jetcat pulls in and we climb on board for the 5 min trip to the quay. I have a half an hour or so so to spare and I'm still famished. I end up opting for a small meal at the Oyster bar. Prawns dusted in dukkah with pickled eggplant salsa. That sounds nice and comparatively healthy. It's a bit drizzly, but I'm fine under the umbrella. The food was pretty average. DEFINITELY not worth the $24 they charged. 3 prawns, the whole dish soaked in oil, which was totally un-necessary. Hmm we won't be going back there.
I head in to Dendy notice that they're playing Casablanca soon... during business hours ... but we'll say no more about that.. grrr. In a crowd of elderly folk I buy my ticket to Easy Virtue enjoying finally remembering to claim my STC subscriber discount.. grab a superb Dendy tramisu choc top from the snack bar and settle down to watch an outstanding movie... destined for my DVD collection that one. A bit slow and iffy to start, but after a short while it really gets going. It is both funny and serious. Brilliantly done and the acting and production values are all wonderful.
Well, after a wonderful day I head on home a little earlier than my usual, hopping the train at circular quay. I can't wait for tomorrow!