- Ellis, John
- History - general, Ship histories and stories, History - post WWII
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Wyatt Earp, HMAS Wongala
- March 2012 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Further problems became evident on sailing. The gyro and the steering chain failed again and the stern gland began to overheat. Five days out, as they crossed the convergence, Harold Irwin reported that the stern gland was overheating unacceptably. He ascertained that the main engine and the propeller shaft were not aligned. To the dismay of all aboard, Wyatt Earp was ordered to return to Williamstown where she entered the Alfred Graving Dock for a month. These failings would have emerged during post-refit trials. Because of the delayed refit completion, the post-refit trials were abandoned to allow the ship to meet her sailing schedule. That schedule, of course, was determined by the Antarctic seasons.
Wyatt Earp sailed south once more on 8 February 1948. Karl Oom forewarned that this departure, late in the season, would most likely preclude a landing. Indeed the delayed sailing saw the aims of the expedition reduced to examination of the coastline and landing, if possible. On reaching the pack ice, it became evident that Wyatt Earp was not suited to moving through pack ice of any density. Indeed Philip Law later recorded, ‘… as an icebreaker this ship was a gnat.’ Although the coast near Commonwealth Bay was sighted, Wyatt Earp could not negotiate the pack ice safely. A short landing was made on one of the Balleny Islands and Robin Gray was able to make two test flights in the Kingfisher. Preparing the aircraft for hoisting over the side and subsequent recovery proved cumbersome.
Return to Melbourne
On 16 March 1948 Karl Oom decided to head north and return to Melbourne. Wyatt Earp touched at Macquarie Island on 31 March, where LST 3501 was anchored, having returned from Heard Island. Indeed, her expedition was successful, although not without incident. The parties she had landed at both Macquarie and Heard Islands would spend the next year ashore on those islands. They were Australia’s pathfinders in our continuing Antarctic research. Later in 1948 LST 3501 was renamed Labuan. Wyatt Earp entered Port Phillip on 31 March and was required to anchor off Geelong as the navy had arranged an official welcome home at Port Melbourne for 1 April. Wyatt Earp was paid off in June and sold. Her new owners returned to Wongala as a name and she tramped the Australian coast. Later she was renamed Natone and continued on the coast until January 1959. During a storm she ran aground near Double Island Point lighthouse and was abandoned.