The History of Naming Australian Navy Ships

The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) has is a long history of naming assets with Indigenous names of aboriginal origin.


When the British Admiralty suggested that the first three Torpedo boat destroyers built for the Commonwealth Naval Forces in 1909 be named after Australian rivers, the Prime Minister Alfred Deakin agreed.

The names of Australian rivers with Indigenous names were specifically chosen, and the ships commissioned as Parramatta (I), Yarra (I) and Warrego (I). Yarra and Parramatta are both names currently in use in the contemporary fleet, the fourth ships to perpetuate these names.

The Navy continues the promotion of links between the Navy and the Australian Indigenous community with several RAN warships bearing such names.

Mr John Perryman, Senior Naval Historian, Seapower Centre has looked at the history of naming Navy ships.

“While the Royal Australian Navy takes many of its naming principles from customs handed down from the Royal Navy, its early recognition of Australia’s first inhabitants is something all serving members can be proud of.

“Today a variety of fleet units can be found carrying Indigenous names and the long-standing tradition of incorporating the boomerang, crossed axe and club in all of the Royal Australian Navy official unit badges is a further demonstration of this close connection,” Mr Perryman said.

HMAS Larrakia conducts helicopter operations training with the Navy's Augusta 109E helicopter.

In the RAN fleet today the Anzac Class frigates HMA Ships Arunta (II) and Warramunga (II) are named for Aboriginal people, while Ballarat (II), Parramatta (IV) and Toowoomba (II), commemorate places with Aboriginal naming origins.

Arunta is the second RAN ship to carry the name of the Arrernte Aboriginal people (also spelt “Arunda” or “Aranda”) located in central Australia.

Warramunga’s name is from the Warramunga (also spelt Warumungu) Aboriginal people from the Tennant Creek area.

The first Arunta and Warramunga were Tribal class destroyers of British design, with other ships of the class being named for various other Indigenous groups.

In the Armidale Class Patrol Boats, Larrakia (II) is named for the Larrakia Aboriginal people of Darwin, in the Top End of the Northern Territory. The first Larrakia was a Darwin based patrol vessel during World War 1, HMA Ships Wollongong (III) and Bundaberg (II) also have names of Aboriginal origin.

Of the RAN establishments, Kuttabul in Sydney and Coonawarra in Darwin, have Indigenous names.

Kuttabul is named for the HMAS Kuttabul, a converted Sydney ferry being used as sailors’ accommodation during World War II when it was sunk by a Japanese midget submarine on 31 May 1941, killing 21 people. Sydney Ferries had named a number of ferries with Indigenous names, and Kuttabul is thought to mean wonderful.

Coonawarra took its name from the telegraph station it subsumed at the site, possibly named after the region in South Australia, and is an Indigenous name for honeysuckle.

There are a number of indigenous names that have been used for past RAN vessels, which may be reused for future ships, such as the NUSHIP Canberra, which is due to be commissioned this year.

Press Release, July 07, 2014; Image: Australian Navy

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