- Thomson, Max
- None noted
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Diamantina I
- June 1996 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Preserving yesteryear’s warships to enhance our maritime heritage is never easy. Even in the U.K. with its big population, the task of maintaining HMS BELFAST in the Thames opposite the Tower of London, is a complex and costly undertaking, especially as BELFAST was the largest cruiser ever built by the Royal Navy.
Queensland’s Maritime Museum is doing an extremely fine job restoring the former wartime frigate, HMAS DIAMANTINA, in the South Brisbane Graving Dock adjacent to the spectacular Brisbane Southbank Development which attracts such a huge number of visitors.
But the dilemma isn’t just DIAMANTINA herself. It’s the caisson, which like the dock itself, is listed as part of the National Estate as an important exhibit. The dock dates back to 1878, when work on it was commenced, finally to open on 10th September 1881.
During World War II, the dock performed important work docking and refitting RAN ships up to the size of Sloops and provided the only docking facility north of Newcastle capable of docking the USN submarines operating out of Brisbane until a larger dry-dock was completed further down river.
Until work can be undertaken on the caisson, constant pumping is required to handle the water that flows through into the dock in which DIAMANTINA rests on her blocks. Museum enthusiasts feel that when the day (and finance) arrives enabling a proper refit on the caisson itself, then DIAMANTINA at that time may be lifted a block or two higher in the dock which will enhance the frigate’s appearance making her more spectacular and environmentally compatible.
To the credit of all concerned, DIAMANTINA is indeed looking more shipshape once again after restoration from its survey-ship configuration to its wartime silhouette. Between decks the ship fascinates endless streams of visitors from all over the world who stroll through her displays, radio room (which is now an amateur radio station), engine room, boiler rooms and mess deck and cabin displays which house much fascinating memorabilia of the ship herself and of other frigates and RAN warships; and of wartime navy lifestyle.
Her main armament 4 inch and 40 mm Bofors AA weaponry are in the process of restoration and the ship’s boats are on deck awaiting reconstruction of the customary davits.
Only ‘old salts’, however, know just how hard it is to recapture that wartime saltstain, overworked appearance most of our warships displayed, especially with all the paraphernalia of war that was scattered along and around :heir upper decks. It was something peculiar to war; extremely hard to recapture in peacetime all these years onward.
DIAMANTINA’s gangway ‘log’ contains complimentary remarks from seafarers and visitors from all over Australia and so many countries congratulating all concerned at the job being done in restoration of the frigate.
DIAMANTINA is one of four of our RAN warships now preserved – the corvette CASTLEMAINE in Melbourne, which houses an immense display of naval memorabilia; the former corvette, WHYALLA, which now sits uniquely in a parkland setting some distance from the waters of Spencers Gulf into which she was launched; the first ship built in Whyalla, and in Sydney, the VAMPIRE, the last of the RAN’s Daring class ships before the advent of missile-firing ships, and which graces the National Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour.
[Ed: On 29 February 1980, HMAS DIAMANTINA, oceanographic research vessel was paid off for disposal at Garden Island. She was the last World War II ship still in service. After being commissioned for 30 years she had steamed half a million miles and in 1966 had sounded the recorded depth of 4,000 fathoms off Noumea.]