Further to Hugh Farmer’s article Antarctica –the forgotten Continent in the Naval Historical Review Vol. 38 No. 2 (June 2017), there are two aspects of RAN participation in matters Antarctica that should be part of the results of his otherwise comprehensive research.
Firstly, HMAS Perth II also made a medical evacuation trip to Macquarie Island in late April 1967. The ship was departing Port Phillip on 28 April, after a very successful visit to Melbourne, including ANZAC Day, with the inaugural Director General of Joint Recruiting, Rear Admiral O. H. Becher CBE, DSO, DSC* RAN, embarked for a leisurely cruise to Sydney, when an ACNB signal was received diverting her to Macquarie Island to evacuate a ‘seriously psychotic’ expeditioner, actually, a cook, a Mr Hindes.
Perth encountered mountainous seas on the trip south and a wash deck locker was lost overboard. It was amazing to learn of the contents, and the capacity, of that locker! The ship arrived in the landing area in Buckles Bay on the afternoon of 1 May, but an attempt to evacuate the patient was unsuccessful, due to the conditions.
The ship remained at sea overnight and an early morning evacuation attempt, in only slightly more benign conditions, was successful, using swimmers and a 20 man inflatable life raft. The patient and Rear Admiral Becher were landed in Hobart on 5 May.
Secondly, and more importantly, in the 1979/80 period, the RAN and the ADF were seriously considering manning and operating the projected new Australian Antarctic Research Vessel (AARV), subsequently the Aurora Australis. The ship would be owned by the Department of Science, who would bear the operating costs, whilst Navy would provide the operating personnel and aircraft. The strategic importance of Antarctica, and therefore experience of, and ability in, higher latitude operations was an important consideration at the time.
The then Director of Naval Plans, Captain M. W. Hudson RAN, later Admiral AC RAN, and the then Chief of Defence Force Staff, Admiral Sir Anthony Synnot KBE AO RAN, were strong promoters of exploring the options. Most of the intellectual horsepower came from the then Deputy Director Naval Plans, Commander W. S. G. ‘Sam’ Bateman RAN, later Commodore RAN and a distinguished international maritime academic.
At the time, the initial staff paper at the Australian Joint Services Staff College was the dreaded ‘Polar Pen’ – eliciting student’s analysis of the strategic importance of Antarctica. We even sent two RAN aviators to USCG Polar class icebreakers for high latitude helicopter operations experience – the now Commodore G. A. Ledger RAN DSC AM RAN and the late Commander T. B. Wynberg RANR. The proposal to man and operate the AARV withered on the Defence Budget tree, without the strategic rationale ever being refuted.
CMDR Steve Youll, RAN, Rtd