I'm a Victorian freelance writer & photographer living in the Macedon Ranges north of Melbourne.
Published April 18th 2021
Seafaring history and heritage
Darling Harbour is, when you think about it, a fitting spot to house the Australian National Maritime Museum - just around the corner from Sydney Cove, the colony's first settlement, and on the site of a former major seaport and transport hub.
The Australian National Maritime Museum is a huge indoor/outdoor exhibition of Australian maritime history located at Darling Harbour and readily accessible from anywhere in the Harbour City. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
In 1984, provision was made for the inclusion of the museum in Sydney's massive Darling Harbour redevelopment program, a multi-million dollar project to turn a run-down former industrial site into a world-class residential and entertainment precinct. Construction of the museum commenced in 1986 and the finished facility was opened on 29th November 1991 by Prime Minister Bob Hawke.
The museum features a fleet of historic vessels berthed alongside the imposing main building, with its distinctive roof-line representing waves and sails, and is home to more than 130,000 items held in seven main galleries. These include one dedicated to the relationship between Australia and the USA. Funded by the Americans, it's the only gallery in a national museum anywhere in the world funded by a foreign nation.
HMAS ADVANCE, an ATTACK-Class Patrol Boat played a key role in securing Australia's borders for 20-years from the late 1960's. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
From the Charlotte Medal, a small silver medallion hand engraved by a First Fleet convict, to a vessel made using 2000 empty beer cans, examples of former operational warships and a working lighthouse, the museum's collection covers almost every conceivable aspect of Australia's nautical development and history.
The Charlotte Medal is widely recognised as Australia's first colonial work of art, engraved by convict Thomas Barrett on board the First Fleet convict transport CHARLOTTE at anchor in Botany Bay between the 20th and 26th of January 1788. Barrett, an engraver, forger and convicted thief, was commissioned by John White, the First Fleet Surgeon General who was also aboard CHARLOTTE, to engrave a medal commemorating the Fleet's safe arrival at Botany Bay on January 20th.
The face of the medal shows the CHARLOTTE at anchor and the reverse holds details of the Fleet's passage by way of its position in Latitude & Longitude on specific dates. It also records the total distance travelled of 13,106 nautical miles.
Barrett's celebrity was short-lived. Australia's first colonial artist was hanged for stealing food within weeks of arriving at Botany Bay, the first European criminal executed in the new colony.
The Destroyer VAMPIRE and submarine ONSLOW both provided years of 'Cold War' service to the Royal Australian Navy. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Prominent among the museums fleet of ships is the replica of Captain James Cook's ENDEAVOUR, considered by many to be the most authentic maritime reproduction in the world. Conceived as part of the build-up to Bicentenary celebrations in 1988 the ENDEAVOUR was launched at Fremantle, Western Australia in December 1993 following extensive delays due to financial difficulties experienced by her major sponsors.
Having since sailed twice around the world and hosting many thousands of visitors, the ENDEAVOUR replica has been on display at the National Maritime Museum since 2005 but still undertakes regular voyages in Australian waters.
Berthed nearby is the former Royal Australian Navy Daring Class Destroyer HMAS VAMPIRE, one of three of the class built for the RAN, the other two being VOYAGER and VENDETTA.
With three 4.5 inch twin gun turrets, anti-aircraft guns, torpedoes and anti-submarine mortars the heavily armed VAMPIRE was in service from 1959 to 1986 but never fired a shot in anger.
Alongside VAMPIRE is the Oberon Class Submarine HMAS ONSLOW.
ONSLOW served for 30 years, travelling the equivalent of 16 circumnavigations of the globe with her crew of up to 68 Officers and sailors living and working in incredibly cramped conditions. She was unique in some ways including being the world's first conventionally powered submarine to be armed with anti-ship missiles. She was also the only RAN submarine to be fitted with a special hatch to enable the deployment and recovery of naval Clearance Divers while submerged.
HMAS ONSLOW was one of six Australian Oberon Class boats that were at the forefront of dangerous Cold War western intelligence gathering missions between March 1978 and December 1992.
KRAIT carried Australian Commandos to Japanese occupied Singapore in on e of the most courageous raids of World War 2. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Perhaps the most famous of the Museums ships is also the most humble. At first glance, she might appear out of place, perhaps more at home in a fishing boat harbour than a prestigious national museum.
A timber vessel just over 20 metres long, she was built in 1934 for a Japanese company, named the KOFUKU MARU and put into service supporting Indonesian fishermen, providing them with supplies and transporting their catch to Singapore.
Early in World War 2, the KOFUKU MARU was credited with rescuing 1100 survivors from shipping sunk by the Japanese along the coast of Sumatra. When the Dutch East Indies eventually fell the boat, under the command of an Australian, Captain Bill Reynolds, escaped and made its way to Colombo and then India before being shipped to Australia as deck cargo.
Reynolds renamed his vessel KRAIT after a small but very venomous sea-snake and began talks with the military which led to her involvement in Operation JAYWICK, an ambitious plan to strike back at the Japanese.
On September 2nd 1943 KRAIT, with a crew of 14 British and Australian soldiers and sailors, departed Exmouth in Western Australia bound for Japanese occupied Singapore. Sixteen days later, after passing through Lombok Strait, the Java Sea and creeping along the coast of Borneo, KRAIT anchored off Pulau Panjang, one of a small group of islands immediately south of Singapore.
From there three teams of two 'Z' Special Force members paddled off in collapsible canoes to attack shipping in the harbour.
After one failed attempt and two days spent concealed and observing the port they paddled into the harbour under cover of darkness and attached Limpet mines to 7 cargo vessels. Just before first light, as the teams paddled to rendezvous with KRAIT, a series of explosions was heard and it was later determined that all 7 ships, totalling a little less than 40,000 tons, had been destroyed.
With the raiders safely back on board, KRAIT made the perilous journey back to Australia, arriving in Exmouth on October 19th. She spent the rest of the war as an operational unit of the Royal Australian Navy based in Darwin and later as a Volunteer Coastal Patrol vessel.
On ANZAC Day 1964, KRAIT was formally afforded War Memorial status and acquired by the Australian War Memorial. She has been on loan to and displayed at the Australian National Maritime Museum since 1988.
The replica ENDEAVOUR was conceived as part of Australia's Bicentennial celebrations in 1988. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Lighthouses have always played an important role around Australia's almost 60,000 kilometres of coastline. In our short history more than 350 lighthouses of one shape or another have been commissioned, many as the result of the loss of one or more of the estimated 8000 plus vessels which have come to grief on our shores.
In the late 1870s, a string of 22 identical lighthouses were positioned throughout North Queensland waters. Constructed of hardwood frames clad in iron plates imported from the UK and featuring a kerosene fuelled light, the stations were prefabricated in Brisbane before being moved to their operational locations.
In 1874, one of these was located at Cape Bowling Green, a particularly troublesome sand spit to the south of Townsville which had claimed a number of ships. At the time of its commissioning, the station was staffed by a Keeper and 3 assistants.
In 1878, and again in 1908, the Cape Bowling Green Light had to be relocated when it was threatened with inundation.
Upgraded over the years, the light was automated in 1920, staff withdrew and the numerous buildings demolished. Eventually replaced by a more modern tower in 1987, the original structure was dismantled, helicoptered to the mainland and then shipped to Sydney where it was placed in storage. It was re-erected at the National Maritime Museum in 1994.
A very popular attraction with visitors the Cape Bowling Green Lighthouse is still operational, using its original lens and a clockwork rotating mechanism circa 1913 to produce its light sequence of four white flashes every 20 seconds.
The restored tall-ship JAMES CRAIG dates back to 1874 and still sails regularly on Sydney Harbour. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Other exhibits include the 'tall ship' JAMES CRAIG circa 1874, the Commonwealth Lightship #4 CARPENTARIA and the DUYFKEN, a replica of the first European ship to reach Australia in 1606.
The National Maritime Museum is one of Australia's great museums encompassing every aspect of the nation's maritime history in the middle of a vibrant entertainment precinct. There is always something special happening at the ANMM making it a 'must see' attraction for local and international visitors alike.
The un-manned light-ship CARPENTARIA was built at Sydney's Cockatoo Island in 1917 and retired from service in 1985. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
During current (April 2021) COVID restrictions there are no below-decks tours available on ENDEAVOUR and VPIRE, no entry to the lighthouse and no group bookings available. It's advisable to check the website for updates and changes that may be made at short notice in line with NSW Health recommendations.
A 'See it All' ticket costs Adults $25, Children $15, Concession $20 and a Family $65. Children under 4-years are FREE. Visitors can also redeem the Service NSW Dine and Discover Vouchers at the museum.
Getting There …..
Darling Harbour is very accessible, well serviced by train, bus, ferry and water taxi or walk up from Sydney's central business district.
Arrive by bus and alight at either Market, Park, Druitt, Bathurst or Liverpool streets for quick access to Darling Harbour. Regular ferry services operate from Circular Quay to Darling Harbour and Sydney Light Rail services run to nearby Pyrmont Bay Station.
The Australian National Maritime Museum provides an unequalled opportunity for visitors to immerse themselves in Australia's wealth of maritime history. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Where:The Australian National Maritime Museum, Darling Harbour, Sydney
Cost:A 'See it All' ticket costs Adults $25, Children $15, Concession $20 and a Family $65. Children under 4-years are FREE. Visitors can also redeem the Service NSW Dine and Discover Vouchers at the museum.
Tours of the submarine Onslow are also available at an extra cost of $8. These can only be booked in person at the front desk. They sell out quickly on weekends. You can visit part of the interior of HMAS Vampire.