- Torrington, Reg
- Ship histories and stories, History - WW1
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Parramatta I
- June 2000 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
HMAS Parramatta, a torpedo boat destroyer of the River Class, launched in 1910, was the first ship of the Royal Australian Navy. It was decommissioned in 1928 and, with HMAS Swan, a sister ship, handed over to the NSW Government. In May of that year it was towed, together with Swan, to Cowan Creek on the Hawkesbury River. It remained there for three years before the NSW Government sold both these ships to a private owner who used them to transport blue metal and sand in 1934 from Brooklyn (now Hawkesbury River) railway station to Milson and Peat Islands where mental hospitals were being constructed.
Later that year Swan foundered in a gale while Parramatta was blown aground on a shallow mud flat about 500 m north of Milson Island. Its back was broken as a result of the grounding. It became a home for squatters throughout the remainder of the 1930s.
Salvage was first proposed in 1952 but the proposal came to nothing. She was sold again and attempts made to cut her up for scrap. It proved impossible to cut her steel with normal oxy-acetylene and in 1963 the project was abandoned.
In 1970 the Naval Historical Society proposed to the Naval Board that Parramatta be salvaged for inclusion in a naval museum. In 1973 the Society approached the Parramatta City Council which agreed on a joint venture with the Society for this project. The Mayor of Parramatta, Alderman Barry Wylde, convened a public meeting in May, 1973 to organise an appeal for money for the ship to be salvaged. After inspection by the Society, it recommended that the only practical salvage would be that of the bow and stem sections.
This was carried out by a contractor under Society supervision. They were placed on a barge and taken to Garden Island in Sydney Harbour. The stern was taken then to the newly rejuvenated section of the Parramatta River adjacent to the historic Queen’s Wharf Steps and here, in this area now known as Queen’s Wharf Reserve, a memorial, including the stern of the first Parramatta, was erected to the three Parramattas. It was unveiled by Admiral Sir Victor Smith, Australia’s first full Admiral, on Saturday 13 June 1981.
The bow was erected on the northern end of Garden Island where it was unveiled in October 1986, by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh.
However, since 1981, greater emphasis has been given to understanding our history and this has led to much more and intensive detailed searches of early settlements. The first settlement in Parramatta was alongside the river in Queen’s Wharf Reserve. To pursue this search it will be necessary to conduct an archeological dig throughout this Reserve and this will require the Parramatta Memorial to be relocated.
In August 1998, Parramatta City Council formed a committee with representatives from the Council and Naval organisations to organise this relocation. An artist, Mr Tony Bishop, was commissioned by the Council to investigate a site and recommend the form the memorial should take, incorporating the stern of the first Parramatta. He proposed that the site should be alongside the Charles Street Wharf where the River Cat service from Circular Quay berths. There will be a path from the wharf to the Memorial which will provide a full scale plan of the Parramatta on the ground in brick, and posts at regular intervals along its full length on both sides on which boards will give details of the ship and its operations. Other boards will show details of Parramatta’s II, III and IV (the latter is now building). The committee unanimously adopted this concept. The stern will be refurbished, then brought from Queen’s Park Reserve and incorporated in this new memorial. It is hoped that two demountable masts can be included in the concept so that on special occasions such as Navy Week, the ship may be dressed with flags in the daytime and lights at night.
This planning is now in process and it is hoped that in the year 2000 we will see the monument a reality.