- Colthorpe, P.D., Lieutenant, RAN
- Biographies and personal histories, Ship histories and stories
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Parramatta III
- March 1990 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
In my case I went before it was fashionable and the hospitality was less than the travel agents would have you believe. Not that the natives could be held to account, after all it was immediately after an earthquake and the tour guide was the ‘GREY FUNNEL LINE’.
On July 16, 1976, I was serving in HMAS PARRAMATTA which was deploying to SE Asia when we were directed to assist the island after a disastrous earthquake. It was just after breakfast when the Commanding Officer Commander White broke the news of this sojourn in paradise.
Information was sketchy as is often the case and our orders had just directed us to Benoa to meet with the Naval Attaché from Djakarta and local authorities. The ship started to prepare for some sort of aid to the local population. This was not a simple task as ships deploying for five months to SE Asia are not stored to aid in disaster relief. PARRAMATTA is essentially a fighting ship but with a bit of imagination and thought we came up with some ideas.
We anchored off Benoa late that night and were allocated one of the worst hit areas around the coastal town of Serarit. An advance party proceeded overland accompanied by four Australian girls working in Bali. They provided valuable assistance interpreting between the locals and the Relief Team. I only met one of these girls and unfortunately I can’t remember her name but I do remember the admiration most of the crew felt for her and her companions for the ceaseless efforts to interpret the needs of the locals all over the town.
While the advance party travelled overland, PARRAMATTA steamed overnight to anchor as close to Serarit as possible. Deep water off Serarit made safe anchorage impossible therefore we had to anchor twelve miles away. This robbed us of close support and the visual effect that a warship anchored off may have had on the civil population.
The following day was confusing with rumours running rife around the ship. The advance party reported that some 70% of the homes were destroyed and aftershocks were still rocking the area. Most of the building materials were poorly fired bricks and hence these aftershocks were having a greater effect than expected. The death toll was estimated at 470, however, this was not confirmed during our stay in the area.
Early on July 18, approximately 120 men were landed to begin the clean up in earnest. The size of our force and the limited heavy equipment available dictated the tasks best undertaken. The ship tackled the repair of the generators, replacing power lines to the important buildings, cleaning up the market place and the building of the slaughter shed.
On that evening a Western movie from the ship’s film library was shown in the market. What the Balinese made of this I can only guess but it seemed a great success. The following day a further party was landed to continue the work of the previous day. In addition to the public tasks commenced the landing party now helped individuals who seemed worst hit. It was only then that the reason for so much damage became glaringly evident. The bricks and tiles were so poorly fired that they broke in your hands and the mortar was so devoid of cement that walls were pushed over by manpower.
This cleanup continued on July 20, which incidentally was the day the demolition team attempted the demolition of the old billiard hall which was a three storey building considered to be in danger of collapse. As stated before the bricks and mortar were not at peak strength and you wouldn’t expect a great deal of trouble in this task. After hours of dangerous and diligent work the explosion was set for 1400 and a large audience gathered for this major event. The bang sent a cloud of dust into the air which when it cleared proved to be pulverised tiles. The charges had simply blown the tiles off the roof and displaced a few bricks, the weak structure had absorbed the shock, that was the Diving Officer’s explanation anyway.
By now the ship was running low on fuel and was ordered to Surabuya for fuel and then to Singapore. The Indonesian Army was arriving in some strength and the population was overcoming the shock of the disaster and was starting to rebuild.