I'm a Victorian freelance writer & photographer living in the Macedon Ranges north of Melbourne.
Published September 14th 2011
Williamstown is the sort of place you'd visit to enjoy a relaxed stroll along the foreshore, watch the myriad boats come and go and perhaps enjoy an ice cream on the manicured lawns of the waterfront Commonwealth Reserve.
But it's also home to a small part of Australia's wartime history, the museum ship HMAS Castlemaine berthed at Gem Pier.
Lovingly restored and cared for by dedicated volunteers Castlemaine is a monument to the courage of hundreds of young men who served on her and many other vessels of her type in the defence of the nation during World War 2.
In fact HMAS Castlemaine has come home. She was built at Williamstown and launched on the 7th August 1941, one of sixty 'bathurst' class vessels constructed in Australia based on a British design and modified to adapt to local conditions.
Built primarily as mine sweepers, they also performed armed escort duties, troop landing and resupply and engaged in anti-submarine warfare. Armed with anti-aircraft guns, depth charges and a QF-4 Inch deck gun Castlemaine operated with a crew ranging from 70 to 100 and was officially designated an "Australian Mine Sweeper".
The Castlemaine served with distinction in a variety of roles during WW2.
HMAS Castlemaine saw service in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, the China Sea and northern Australian waters. During her short but dramatic career Castlemaine sustained minor damage from numerous enemy actions, ran aground on the coast east of Darwin and collided with a Manly ferry on Sydney Harbour.
She operated in company with a sister-ship, HMAS Armidale north of Australia and in the Timor Sea throughout November 1942 until Armidale was lost to a massive Japanese air strike on 1st December with the loss of 40 Officers and crew.
With the end of hostilities HMAS Castlemaine was dispatched to Hong Kong, where she arrived on 29th August 1945 to take part in the Japanese surrender ceremony.
At the end of her active service Castlemaine was sent to HMAS Cerberus on the Mornington Peninsula to serve as a static training vessel. She was gifted to The Maritime Trust of Australia in 1973 and painstakingly restored to fulfil the role of a maritime museum at Williamstown.
The ships Mess Deck is now used to exhibit memorabilia from Castlemaine and other aspects of Australian naval history.
Today CASTLEMAINE takes pride of place on Williamstown's historic waterfront precinct.