Final salute for Australia's oldest warship

CEREMONY OBSERVED: Protocol dictates a friendly salute to a passing navy ship, in this case a patrol boat as the HMAS Darwin enters the harbour..
CEREMONY OBSERVED: Protocol dictates a friendly salute to a passing navy ship, in this case a patrol boat as the HMAS Darwin enters the harbour..

She was never a particularly glamourous lady, Australia’s oldest warhorse of the sea.

All square edges on her bluff exterior with a skyhigh mast to peer over the horizon, HMAS Darwin has a radar “signature” which made her obsolete years ago.

The flag-waving visits to ports around the world were not her lot, she was a campaigner which saw more than a million sea miles pass under her keel.

HMAS Darwin made her final entrance to the Port of Darwin last week before she is decommissioned at the end of the year, and may go the way of others of her class and be cut up for scrap.

She dropped by to say a sad farewell following a two month deployment to the Indo-Pacific region.

Yet more than 5000 enlisted sailors have a soft spot for the old lady they served in at one time or other

Darwin also has a soft spot for the guided missile frigate as well, which has visited her namesake city several times over her 33 years of service.

A small crowd gathered on the high wharf as Commander Phillip Henry brought her gently alongside as a navy band played ashore.

A traditional seven gun salute was fired on entry, with responding fire from the Cenotaph area on the land.

Despite her deadly design, HMAS Darwin has never fired a shot in anger.

Commander Henry said she let rip with a few shots in warning at one time or other and the one missile Australia could afford for her to be fired each year or so was only ever in practice.

But this Adelaide-class ship still has an array of weaponry.

“She could still give the enemy a bloody nose,” one sailor said proudly.

Yet as clean and well kept as she appears, her two helicopter hangers are bare of anything other than stores.

You half expected to see a whipper-snipper hanging on the steel walls.

Her principal weapons are the launcher which fires anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles on her forecastle (foward of the bridge)..

HMAS Darwin has a 76mm gun and one 20mm Phalanx close-in weapon system.

There are torpedo tubes, mortar launchers and an array of sensors, none of which appeared to have been switched on.

She has has been deployed to the Middle East region seven times, East Timor and the Solomon Islands.

She can still lift her skirts and belt along at 30 knots thanks to her twin gas turbines.

The ship will make its final departure from the wharf on Monday morning.

Most of the sailors aboard, many of which who are women, have already been told their new assignments, many of them land-based.

Commander Henry was at pains to say the HMAS Darwin was always known as a “family” ship, referring to its close-knit crews.

Just as well, there is a brother and sister serving aboard.