September 2007

Encounters

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

HMAS Melbourne & HMAS Voyager

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

On the evening of 10 February 1964, the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne, flagship of the Royal Australian Navy, and the Daring-class destroyer HMAS Voyager were conducting a night exercise to the south-east of Jervis Bay. Two Sea Venom fighters from the naval air base at Nowra were attempting a ‘touch and go’ landing on the carrier’s flight deck. As ‘plane guard’, the Voyager’s job was to escort the Melbourne at a distance of 1500 yards, ready to recover any aircraft that ditched into the drink.

The sea was smooth with a low swell, the night was dark with no moon or clouds, and both ships were lit only with operational lights. As the Melbourne changed course, the Voyager was signalled to make corresponding adjustments to its position. Normally this would mean allowing the Melbourne to pass ahead, then crossing its stern before taking up station on its starboard quarter.

As the 20,000-ton carrier completed its manoeuvre, the Voyager suddenly turned back across its bows. Despite desperate attempts to avert a collision, the carrier struck the destroyer amidships, slicing it in half. The Voyager’s captain and bridge officers were killed by the impact. Destabilised by the weight of its gun turrets, the ship’s bow section capsized, then sank.

For the next three hours, the crew of the badly damaged Melbourne worked feverishly to rescue battered and bleeding survivors from the water and the aft of the Voyager, which remained defiantly afloat. Apart from other injuries, most had swallowed sea water and fuel oil. In all, 82 officers and sailors lost their lives. Shortly after midnight, Captain Robertson, the recently appointed commander of HMAS Melbourne, signalled fleet headquarters: “Voyager has sunk.”

Two royal commissions failed to adequately account for the accident. Allegations were made that the Voyager’s captain was an alcoholic and an amphetamine user. Poor visibility, a mix-up over signals and a navigation “fishtail” were variously blamed. Lies were told and officers covered each other’s backs. Surviving seamen battled for decades for compensation.

After repairs, the Melbourne resumed duty. In June 1969, during SEATO exercises in the South China Sea, it collided with the destroyer USS Frank E Evans in almost identical circumstances to the Voyager disaster. Seventy-four American sailors died. The Melbourne was exonerated. After decommissioning in 1982, it was bought by a Chinese scrap-metal company and broken up.

The wreck of the Voyager lies in 600 fathoms of water, 20 nautical miles west of the Point Perpendicular lighthouse. The current HMAS Melbourne is a guided-missile frigate, and the lead ship for the Nulka expendable-decoy system. According to the Navy, ‘nulka’ is an Aboriginal word meaning ‘be quick’.

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Shane Maloney is a writer and the author of the award-winning Murray Whelan series of crime novels. His 'Encounters', illustrated by Chris Grosz, have been published in a collection, Australian Encounters.

Chris Grosz is a book illustrator, painter and political cartoonist. He has illustrated newspapers and magazines such as the Age, the Bulletin and Time.

From the front page

Image of former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian in September. Image © Dan Himbrechts / AAP Images

Gladys for Warringah?

In attempting to take down an independent MP, Morrison is helping pro-integrity candidates across the country

Image of Oscar Isaac as William Tell in The Card Counter. Photograph © Focus Features

Debt burden: Paul Schrader’s ‘The Card Counter’

The acclaimed writer-director indulges his experimental streak in a thriller that inverts the popular conception of the gambling man

Still from ‘No Time To Die’

The Bond market: ‘Dune’ and ‘No Time To Die’

Blockbuster season begins with a middling 007 and a must-see sci-fi epic

Image of Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese during Question Time earlier this week. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

Go figure

How did Labor end up with an emissions-reduction target of just 43 per cent?

In This Issue

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Ticked off

Tales from pig city

The Saints
Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Comment

Let a thousand weeds bloom

Andrew Keen’s ‘The Cult of the Amateur’

More in Arts & Letters

Still from ‘No Time To Die’

The Bond market: ‘Dune’ and ‘No Time To Die’

Blockbuster season begins with a middling 007 and a must-see sci-fi epic

Abbotsford I

New poetry, after lockdowns

Bing Crosby and David Bowie on Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas, circa 1977.

Oh, carols!

The music of Christmas, from the manger to the chimney

Image of Gerald Murnane

Final sentence: Gerald Murnane’s ‘Last Letter to a Reader’

The essay anthology that will be the final book from one of Australia’s most idiosyncratic authors


More in Encounters

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Rupert Murdoch & Kamahl

Mark Oliphant & J Robert Oppenheimer

John Monash & King George V

John Howard & Uri Geller


Online exclusives

Image of Oscar Isaac as William Tell in The Card Counter. Photograph © Focus Features

Debt burden: Paul Schrader’s ‘The Card Counter’

The acclaimed writer-director indulges his experimental streak in a thriller that inverts the popular conception of the gambling man

Image of The Beatles and Yoko Ono during the ‘Let It Be’ sessions. Image © Apple Records / Disney+

‘Get Back’ is ‘slow TV’ for Beatles nuts

Despite plenty of magical moments, Peter Jackson’s eight-hour epic is the work of a fanatic, and will likely only be watched in full by other fanatics

Image of John Wilson in How To with John Wilson. Image courtesy of HBO / Binge

Candid camera: ‘How To with John Wilson’

Both delightfully droll and genuinely moving, John Wilson’s idiosyncratic documentary series is this month’s streaming standout

Image of Clint Eastwood in Cry Macho. Image © Claire Folger / Warner Bros.

Slow motions: Clint Eastwood’s ‘Cry Macho’

Despite patient filmmaking, the 91-year-old director’s elegiac feature is unable to escape the legend of the man