Narooma resident and president of the Narooma Golf Club, David Shackleton happens to be a retired Vice Admiral and former Chief of the Royal Australian Navy. He and his wife Robyn recently attended the International Fleet Review and this is first-hand account of the celebration…
WE left Narooma on Thursday morning looking forward to being part of the International Fleet Review.
We wanted Narooma to be part of it too but we left the Narooma News on the table and we only realised when we arrived in Sydney. Nevertheless we have a story to tell and we hope you enjoy it.
David and I were among past Chiefs of Navy and their wives on board the Lady Hopetoun.
This wonderfully restored steam launch participated in the RAN's first fleet entry one hundred years ago on 4 October 1913 as a VIP launch and continues to show off Sydney Harbour to many notable people.
On that day in 1913 the flagship, HMAS Australia, led the new Australian Fleet Unit comprising HMA Ships Melbourne, Sydney, Encounter, Warrego, Parramatta and Yarra into Sydney Harbour for the first time to be greeted by thousands of cheering citizens lining the foreshore. This was a moment of great national pride and importance and so it would be again on the 100th anniversary of that day.
We had the best vantage point from which to view the stunning array of ships of different classes and structures from all over the world and watch the wonderful aerial displays from the Navy’s Fleet Air Arm, the RAAF, and foreign navy fleets.
The weather on Thursday had been dreadful and all of us were praying for sunny skies and light breezes.
Friday dawned as we wished; although it was quite cool and the wind was a little stronger than we would have liked but we set off in Lady Hopetoun to be part of the re-enactment of the first entry of the RAN Fleet into Sydney Harbour.
There was more chop on the water from the hundreds of spectator craft and ferries than there was from the wind.
We were stunned to see so many thousands of people lining the foreshore, taking advantage of any available viewing location including being perched on rocks on the water’s edge.
Everybody we saw looked happy and proud. Pleasure craft and tourist boats of all descriptions jockeyed for vantage points.
We were flying a white ensign and received so many waves and cheers from onlookers ashore and afloat as we waited for HMAS Sydney to lead the Fleet into the harbour.
HMAS Sydney was followed by HMAS Darwin, Bundaberg, Perth, Parramatta, Diamantina and Huon. Her Excellency the Honourable Quentin Bryce AC CVO, Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia welcomed the Fleet from Bradley’s Head, not far from where we had taken up our position and we watched the ships pass us by.
HMAS Sydney fired a 21-gun salute as she rounded Bradleys Head and, when Huon steamed past us, we joined the reviewing line as it continued tracking west under the Sydney Harbour bridge.
It is very difficult to describe how it feels to be a part of something like that.
Being with our Navy counterparts was wonderful and no words can express the pride we felt. But it wasn’t over yet. Not by a long way.
Saturday was to be another big day and the weather was perfect. The action was not confined to the Ceremonial Fleet Review on the harbour. Other events included formation fly-pasts by fixed and rotary wing aircraft, naval displays and demonstrations, naval gun salutes and naval band performances, and the day culminated in a spectacular evening fireworks and lightshow on the harbour.
We could not believe how many people were out so early to see the day’s events unfold. We have never seen so many people lining the foreshore and so many small craft on the harbour. It was unbelievable.
We thought the Friday was amazing but Saturday eclipsed it easily.
It was also the day when Prince Harry ‘came to town’.
He was representing the Commonwealth, not the Queen, and that is why our Governor General took the salute as the Official Reviewing Officer at the Ceremonial Fleet Review.
We arrived at our designated position just before 10am to the sound of the 100 gun salute from Garden Island.
This salute signified the arrival of the Governor General to HMAS Leeuwin. We had the next best seat in the house so to speak because Lady Hopetoun was one of 3 escort vessels for HMAS Leeuwin. The other two were ex HMAS Advance and STS Young Endeavour.
Part of our Navy family who joined in the celebrations with us on board Lady Hopetoun were former Chiefs of Navy (Vice Admirals retired) Don Chalmers, Rus Crane, Rus Shalders, David Leach, David Shackleton Absent are Vice Admirals (ret) Ian MacDougall, and Chris Ritchie; Escort Officers were Rear Admirals James Goldrick and Greg Sammut; Rear Admiral (Ret) Tony Hunt (former Naval Support Commander and now Sydney Heritage Fleet), the wives- Judy Shalders, Jilly Chalmers, Michelle Crane, Robyn Shackleton, Pam Leach and Cecile Hunt.
Prince Harry, and other dignitaries accompanied by Admiral Ray Griggs, (Chief of Navy) were on board Leeuwin for the Review.
The dignitaries waving are Interim Opposition Leader Chris Bowen, MP; General David Hurley, AC, DFC, (Chief of the Defence Force) Her Excellency The Honourable Quentin Bryce, AC, CVO; Vice Admiral Ray Griggs, AO, CSC (Chief of Navy); Prime Minister Tony Abbott, MP, Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir, AC, CVO Governor NSW; His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales.
Not long after HMAS Leeuwin took station off Kirribilli, the first Review Line that consisted of minor war vessels steamed by Leeuwin and it wasn’t long after that the larger warships, the second Review Line, had their turn.
It consisted of a moving line of seven RAN ships, headed by HMAS Sydney, representing the original seven warships of the 2013 Fleet to further symbolise the 1913 entry.
Once HMAS Huon, the last of the seven ships, had saluted we steamed past Leeuwin affording the same ceremonial custom of saluting the reviewing officer. You can see from the photograph that all the dignitaries are thoroughly enjoying the spectacle and Admiral Griggs had every reason to be proud of the men and women of the Navy.
The day was far from over because the fireworks that night was the next event on our schedule.
We arrived at the Opera House forecourt where we along with other Navy family and friends of the Navy would be treated to a wonderful evening’s entertainment.
Those of you watching the event on television were not able to see the navy’s indigenous dance group or hear Admiral Griggs’s wonderful speech before the fireworks began.
That was a real pity. Both provided very moving and proud moments that set the scene for the fireworks spectacular that followed. It was a perfect night for it and the event went off without a hitch. I cannot describe how it felt to be there.
It was a very moving experience and I shed many tears.
Telling the story of the RAN from inception to now was a brilliant idea. Although we could not see the opera house sails from where we were, we could catch a glimpse of them on a large screen nearby.
We felt so proud and it was like coming home after a long time away. The whole experience proved that you never ‘leave’ the Navy. It was an honour and a privilege to be part of it and we wanted to share it with you.
- Robyn Shackleton