Having a bottom scrape might not be for everyone, but it’s bought another 10 years for the museum ship, and stalwart of Melbourne’s Williamstown waterfront, HMAS Castlemaine.
The Bathurst class corvette, built and commissioned at Williamstown between 1941-1942, was one of 60 built in Australia during the Second World War. After commissioning, Castlemaine sailed to Sydney for completion and work-up exercises.
Her primary role was minesweeping, but she was also used as a convoy escort and, in late 1942, in support tasks for Australian and allied troops engaged in guerrilla operations in Timor.
Castlemaine and HMAS Armidale (I), while engaged in a mission to evacuate Australian and Dutch soldiers and deliver a relief contingent at Betano Bay East Timor on 30 November, were subjected to three air attacks.
The next day, Castlemaine completed her part of the mission and returned to Darwin.
While Armidale was returning from Betano Bay, she was attacked by Japanese aircraft and sunk. One hundred soldiers and sailors perished as a result.
On 15 December 1942, while escorting the merchant ships Period and James Cook from Thursday Island to Darwin, a Japanese aircraft scored a direct hit on Period, resulting in four fatalities.
Over two days the ships came under air attack on three occasions, but Castlemaine’s anti-aircraft fire repelled the attacks and the convoy reached Darwin without further incident.
These days, HMAS Castlemaine is open to the public on weekends, public holidays and by arrangement. Visitors can see how crews lived and worked during the war years, witness the original main engines turning over, and view a wide range of artefacts documenting Australian maritime history.
Petty Officer Andrew Campbell, a modern-day volunteer in the ship, said Castlemaine was cold-moved from its usual berth at Gem Pier to the BAE graving dock for her 10-yearly below-water maintenance.
Campbell said Castlemaine had been maintained as a museum ship by a team of volunteers since 1978. The ship is completely restored to its wartime condition and all original mechanical machinery is functional and can be run.
Image: Australian Navy