- Gillett, Ross
- None noted
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- December 1981 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
A MAJOR PROBLEM faced by Australian missions and pearling interests in the years prior to the outbreak of the Pacific war in December 1941 was the multitude of Japanese fishing vessels, working within territorial waters, fishing and pearling illegally without fear of reproach from any official Australian presence.
The complaints came to a head in the mid-thirties as the fishing flotillas of the Empire of Japan, well equipped and well crewed, began to challenge the local pearlers’ monopoly. The Federal Government had, in 1932, considered the growing threat. Of the numerous schemes suggested to provide a suitable patrol in northern territorial waters, the RAN or Air Force had been considered to provide a deterrent. However, the Navy had no desire to station a warship in the region, nor was the air force at all interested.
A decision was finally reached in 1935, after further investigations into a suitable vessel to satisfy the patrol requirements. The design considered was based on a 45 foot triple engined boat, built by the Power Boat Company of Great Britain for the Royal Air Force. The British prototype was of wooden construction for air-sea rescue duties. A gentleman connected with the British boat’s early trials was Aircraftsman Shaw, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, who completed a handbook for the RAF motor boats.
A direction having been made by Australian authorities, the new boat would have the duties of air-sea rescue and patrol work. The former was in support of the Qantas air service from Australia to Singapore, when the boat would be required to be on standby for the plane’s transit from Darwin to the British island colony.
The new boat, constructed in England, was named Larrakia, and was delivered to Sydney in early 1936. She was subsequently taken to the Cockatoo Island Dockyard for fitting out before being placed aboard the freighter Mangola for the long haul to Darwin, arriving there on 18th May 1936.
Larrakia was a sleek craft of 45 feet in length, with a jet black hull riding high out of the water. ‘Her squat upperworks ending aft in the rise of the control cabin gave her a smooth compact line’, so commented her first skipper, Captain C.T.G. Haultain, who overseered her delivery, fitting out and most of her active pre-war adventures. Modifications made to the boat included screens on doors, ventilation apertures and additional vents for duties in the tropic waters of the Northern Territory and the extended periods at sea Larrakia would be required to undertake. More importantly, Larrakia’s fuel tankage was increased from 250 to 840 gallons, although top speed was reduced from 28 knots to 20.5 knots. The need for additional fuel was necessary if the boat was to make a crossing of the Timor Sea, a distance of 500 sea miles, as well as undertake a search and rescue mission once in the region. A crew of four would normally be carried, plus an aboriginal pilot. A Vickers medium machine gun and smaller arms were carried.
An old building on the Darwin Harbour foreshores, known to the crew as ‘The Tin Shed’, became headquarters of the Northern Territory Patrol Service. The bay provided a suitable beach on which Larrakia could be beached for maintenance. Hull repair was governed by the state of tide and weather conditions. Capt. Haultain described, ‘To beach the boat in the ‘Wet’ season was always a risky business, with the possibility of gales and the odd cyclone, and the ‘Wet’ was the only period during which patrols could be suspended’.
A major obstacle and a continuous problem was spare parts for the boat and her engines. With the Darwin base thousands of miles from the source of supply, it was not unusual for months to pass before the necessary part could be obtained. Improvisation was a key factor and happily for Larrakia proved most successful.
During her period in the Northern Territory, Larrakia undertook a multitude of duties, including search and rescue operations, a voyage to Timor and arresting Japanese trawlers. On one early occasion she sank at her moorings in the bay after flooding through the boiler inlets. On the positive side, the little boat rode out the March 1937, Darwin cyclone, staying afloat during the 100 mph winds and resultant seas. ‘It was a source of some selfish satisfaction to us (the crew) that of all the vessels anchored when the storm hit the harbour, Larrakia was the only one left afloat when it had abated. The local maritime ‘experts’ who had once expressed their doubts as to our boat’s sea keeping qualities, now keep a discreet silence’, Haultain commented.