Posted on by

Lorem ipsum

Heave this scurvy copyfiller fer yar next adventure and cajol yar clients into walking the plank with ev'ry layout! Configure above, then get yer pirate ipsum...own the high seas, arg!Vampire) Heave this scurvy copyfiller fer yar next adventure and cajol yar clients into walking the plank with ev'ry layout! Configure above, then get yer pirate ipsum...own the high seas, arg!

Wristwatch worn by Mike Hallen on the night of the collision between HMAS 'Voyager' and HMAS 'Melbourne'. National Maritime Collection, 00016919, gift from M W J Hallen
Wristwatch worn by Mike Hallen on the night of the collision between HMAS Voyager and HMAS Melbourne. National Maritime Collection, 00016919, gift from M W J Hallen

Heave this scurvy copyfiller fer yar next adventure and cajol yar clients into walking the plank with ev'ry layout! Configure above, then get yer pirate ipsum...own the high seas, arg!

Heave this scurvy copyfiller fer yar next adventure and cajol yar clients into walking the plank with ev'ry layout! Configure above, then get yer pirate ipsum...own the high seas, arg!

Of the ship’s complement of 314, 82 men were never to return home.

HMAS 'Voyager' cigarette lighter, ca 1964. National Maritime Collection, AX000759
HMAS Voyager cigarette lighter, ca 1964. National Maritime Collection, AX000759

The survivors who were plucked from the water were covered in fuel oil, vomiting, cut, bruised, and broken and in shock. Within 15 minutes the first survivors were being taken on board the carrier. Some were taken directly to HMAS Creswell in Jervis Bay while Melbourne steamed to Sydney.

In the decades that followed, public scrutiny of private lives and naval procedures kept the tragedy in the news. There were two Royal Commissions, the first acknowledging the lack of a proper lookout and response on the part of the Voyager bridge officers but also criticising the Melbourne bridge crew for not questioning the course Voyager was taking. The second Commission exonerated the Melbourne men – too late though for Captain Robertson who had resigned from the navy – and concluded the collision was due to a mistake by Voyager and that Captain Stevenson was medically unfit for command at the time. He had been suffering from a duodenal ulcer and was at times apparently self-medicating with alcohol. As none of Voyager’s bridge officers survived the collision we may never know why the port course was taken.

After the Royal Commissions, the Naval Board put into place a series of reforms and safety changes on board ships and reviewed many of its policies and procedures. It was also made accountable to the wider government and public community.

For many of the men of Voyager and Melbourne and their families this has been an ongoing struggle. The survivors were given seven days’ leave, replacement uniforms and vouchers to get home. And then they returned to duty and were deployed to other RAN ships. Many suffered flashbacks and nightmares, anger and alcohol issues, problems with confined spaces and obsession with safety measures. Life was never the same again. Compensation claims were initially dismissed by the High Court but this was overruled in 1982. In the 1990s both Voyager and Melbourne men and their families pursued claims against the Government in court, with the last case being closed in 2009 – 45 years after the tragedy unfolded.

The men and women of the Royal Australian Navy work and train in an exacting and dangerous environment and deserve our respect. Today we mark the worst peacetime loss for our navy – may it never happen again.

 

Lindsey Shaw

Formerly ANMM Senior Curator, I retired after 27 years of service in 2013 and am now Honorary Research Associate.

Posted in: Navy and defence