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Published May 5th 2021
Landlocked Naval History
As the crow flies Holbrook, New South Wales is about 260-kilometres from the nearest ocean, something first-time visitors might find a little difficult to believe when they come across a dark, ominous and real Oberon-Class submarine parked in the heart of town, the centrepiece of the Holbrook Submarine Museum.
HMAS OTWAY is an intriguing sight in the centre of land-locked Holbrook. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Holbrook is at the centre of a farming district renowned for its merino wool, wheat, lucerne, beef cattle and lamb. Hume and Hovell must have thought they'd hit the jackpot when they passed this way in 1824, looking for a new grazing country in the south of the colony.
Settlers progressively moved into the area and the first permanent buildings were erected in 1836, in what was then known as Ten Mile Creek. In 1840, a German immigrant, named John Christopher Pabst, became the publican of the Woolpack Hotel and the area slowly became known unofficially as 'the Germans' before being gazetted as Germanton in 1876.
Fast-forward 38-years and the outbreak of World War 1 meant that anything 'German' quickly became unpopular. Accordingly, most of the townsfolk of Germanton felt the name was unpatriotic and were keen to rename their town.
OTWAY was one of six submarines to serve with the RAN between 1966 and 1979. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
At the time newspapers were full of the story of the first Victoria Cross awarded to a submariner, Lieutenant Norman Douglas Holbrook, Royal Navy. Holbrook was commanding HMS B11 in the Dardanelles, Turkey in December 1914 when he dived the vessel under five rows of mines in order to attack and sink the Ottoman ironclad Mesudiye and, despite suffering damage from artillery fire and attack by enemy torpedo boats, Holbrook kept the B11 submerged for more than 9-hours to make good his escape to the Mediterranean.
In a fitting display of patriotism, Germanton was renamed Holbrook in his honour.
A portrait of Lt Commander Norman Holbrook VC. Image courtesy Wiki-Commons
Commander Holbrook visited the town named after him on three occasions before he passed away in July 1976. In 1982, Holbrook's widow gifted his Victoria Cross to the Shire.
Following on from its now very significant association with the 'silent service', Holbrook offered 'Freedom of Entry to the Shire' to Australian submariners and set about planning a memorial to them.
Those plans started to take shape in 1996 when the Ran gifted the 'fin' from the decommissioned Oberon-Class submarine HMAS Otway to the Shire.
A major fundraising drive got underway and after a gift of $100,000 from the late Commander Holbrook's wife plans to acquire the rest of Otway progressed quickly.
The vessel was cut into several sections, transported by road to Holbrook and reassembled on site.
Today HMAS Otway is the centrepiece of the Holbrook Submarine Museum, together with a large scale model of Commander Holbrook's World War 1 submarine HMS B11.
HMAS OTWAY, the centrepiece of the Holbrook Submarine Museum. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
The museum itself is extraordinary and continuing to evolve. It's something not to be missed by any visitor to Holbrook. The museum is open Monday (Public Holidays only), Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 10 AM to 4 PM and Saturday & Sunday 10 AM to 2.30 PM. The last entry is 30-minutes prior to closing time.
Admission costs Adults $7, Children $3, Pensioners $5, Family $15 and groups of 10 or more $4 each.
HMAS ONSLOW, a sister-ship of OTWAY underway at speed. Image courtesy Royal Australian Navy.
While You're There ...
Be sure to check out Grimwoods Store on Albury Street, a replica of the first store built in Germanton it proudly boasts "Everything Sold Here".
Not far away the National Museum of Australian Pottery displays more than 1,500 pieces of 19th and 20th Century Australian pottery, including rare examples of the first marked pottery produced in Australia by the convict Jonathan Leak.
And don't miss the Woolpack Inn Museum, housed in the old Criterion Hotel circa 1895. Located on Albury Street, the museum comprises 22 rooms including a schoolroom, plant from a former cordial factory and, outdoors, a large collection of horse-drawn vehicles and agricultural machinery.
Getting There …..
Holbrook is on the Hume Highway 384-kilometres northeast of Melbourne and 492-Kilometres southwest of Sydney.