ROYAL AUSTRALIAN NAVY COMMUNICATIONS BRANCH ASSOCIATION

ADDRESS BY
CAPTAIN RALPH T. DERBIDGE MBE RAN (RETIRED), PRESIDENT OF THE HMAS BRISBANE ASSOCIATION, AT THE DEDICATION OF THE HMAS BRISBANE MAST MEMORIAL
AT THE BLUFF, ALEXANDRA HEADLAND, QUEENSLAND
ON MONDAY 28 AUGUST 2006


What a wonderful complementing tribute this mast memorial is to the former HMAS BRISBANE now lying on the ocean floor a short distance to seaward of us. On behalf of the HMAS BRISBANE Association, I congratulate wholeheartedly all those at the federal, state and local government levels, and the many community individuals, who had the vision, determination and enthusiasm to bring this commendable project to fruition. Special praise is accorded to Mayor Joe Natoli and the Maroochy Shire Council for their imagination, and for doggedly pursuing a dream spawned at the sinking of the ship nearly 13 months ago.

It is appropriate at the outset that I recognize with gratitude particular persons who have championed and facilitated the association’s participation in these proceedings. Hence, I applaud with gusto the roles played by Project Co-Ordinator, Peter Egan, Councillor Chris Thompson and our own tireless and ever-considerate Kerry Kerr. Thank you very much indeed, all of you.

God, Queen, Country - three almost sacred words of Great Britain and a once proud and mighty empire. Three equally magnificent and meaningful words, 'duty, honour, country' are the motto of the United States Military Academy. As phrases, they both inspire and carry a timeless message to be heeded, not only by those who had gone before in military service, but also those who can still listen and by those yet to come. They are words which pay stirring tribute to those who, at one extreme, have made the supreme sacrifice - offering up their lives in the service of their country. They are also relevant today, in this special place, for they reflect the ideals of all who served in HMAS BRISBANE in war and peace and especially those of her companies over the years who are no longer with us.

I am privileged, proud and grateful to be speaking to you today on behalf of the HMAS BRISBANE Association, an organisation established over a quarter of a century ago and constitutionally bound, among other objectives, to accord honour to the memory of those HMA ships that have borne the name BRISBANE.

Thirty six years ago, I joined the ship with the pennant number 41. She was all but brand new and she felt so purposeful and firm under foot. Along with her sister ships, HMAS PERTH and HMAS HOBART, she had brought to the Royal Australian Navy new technologies of automation and computerisation and, for the first time, a real and potent medium range surface-to-air missile system.

What was that ship, the memory of which has a place of affection deep within the hearts of all who served within her? The story of the second HMAS BRISBANE has been well re-counted in print and prose by others in yesteryears, particularly at her decommissioning in 2001 after 34 years of remarkable service to the nation, at her very public sinking as a dive site a little over a year ago off this headland and, of course, today. I won’t burden you with narrative and statistical repetition.

As with the other two ran guided missile destroyers of the Charles F. Adams class built in the United States she, too, was destined soon after commissioning to be tested in the Vietnam war. She was not to be found wanting in that arena where her extremely professional and effective contributions in two seven-month deployments in 1969 and 1971 to that troubled theatre drew high praise. A measure of that involvement was that she fired some 14,000 rounds (or 435 tonnes) of high explosive 5-inch ammunition from her two gunmounts while operating on what was known as the Vietnam gunline. In that war, her tactical call-sign aptly was “flamboyant” and she concluded replenishment at sea evolutions from supply ships with an appropriate, loud-speaker blaring, replaying of the Credence Clearwater hit-song “Proud Mary”. In this context, I am pleased to acknowledge the presence with us today of my commanding officer at the time of the second deployment to Vietnam, the then Captain Geoffrey Loosli CBE RAN, now Rear Admiral (Retired) and patron of our association.

The ship again would be committed to combat operations twenty years later in the first gulf war where she served once more with distinction. By this time she was well known in, and beyond the fleet, as “the steel cat”.

Towards the end of her working life, still bristling with pride, she remained a unique, operationally capable unit of the RAN with an unmatched weapons suite and associated command, control and communications combat data system. That capability, and much more, will be returned to the RAN when a newly-named HMAS BRISBANE is commissioned into the RAN early next decade as one of three large and powerful air-warfare destroyers to be built here in Australia.

It is fitting that I round out my remarks by dwelling briefly on the people of the Navy who were, are and always will be the most important factor in Naval Operations. Those who serve in the contemporary navy of today are well educated, highly skilled, very professional and properly motivated. They need to be, because they face more difficult and different tasks than their counterparts of earlier times. Moreover, conditions at sea are still relatively spartan and crowded and it is not easy to see how it can be otherwise.

Today's sailors continue to serve their country well, as evidenced by the on-going RAN involvement in the Persian Gulf following the war with Iraq, in peacekeeping operations, in disaster relief, as a barrier to people and drug smugglers and in the protection of Australia’s off-shore economic resource zones.

Of course, there is life after the navy - witness the attendance here today by so many representatives of our association! But, to my mind, the extended naval family, of which we BRISBANE veterans are part, embodies the best club in the world. The following are not all my words, and those that are not I attribute to an anonymous source, but, in years to come, when sailors like me and my fellow shipmates are home from the sea, they might well stand in quiet reflection at this very memorial.

Here they will recall with fondness and respect the ocean in all its moods - the impossible shimmering mirror calm and the storm-tossed green water surging over the bow. And then there will come again a slight whiff of funnel gas, a faint echo of engine and rudder orders, a vision of the bright bunting of signal flags snapping at the yardarm, and refrains of hearty laughter in the wardroom and messdecks. Gone ashore for good, they will grow wistful about their navy days, when the seas belonged to them and a new port of call was ever over the horizon. Remembering this, they will stand taller and say, "I was a BRISBANE sailor. I was part of the Navy and the Navy will always be a part of me."