September 2007


Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

HMAS Melbourne & HMAS Voyager

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz
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.

There is nowhere quite like The Monthly. We are told that we live in a time of diminished attention spans; a time where the 24-hour-news-cycle has produced a collective desire for hot takes and brief summaries of the news and ideas that effect us. But we don’t believe it. The need for considered, reflective, long-form journalism has never been greater, and for almost 20 years, that’s what The Monthly has offered, from some of our finest writers.

That kind of quality writing costs money, and requires the support of our readers. Your subscription to The Monthly allows us to be the home for the best, most considered, most substantial perspectives on the state of the world. It’s Australia’s only current affairs magazine, an indispensable home for cultural commentary, criticism and reviews, and home to personal and reflective essays that celebrate and elevate our humanity.

The Monthly doesn’t just comment on our culture, our society and our politics: it shapes it. And your subscription makes you part of that.

Select your digital subscription

Month selector

From the front page

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Letter from Dunkley

As a byelection draws the nation’s focus to the scrappy suburb of the author’s childhood, a visit reveals the damage wrought by the housing crisis

Kim Williams seen through window with arms half-raised

The interesting Mr Williams

At a time when the ABC faces more pressure than ever before, is its new chair the right person for the job?

Andrew Tate in dark sunglasses flanked by two men, attending his trial in Bucharest, Romania, July 2023

The Tate race

Online misogyny touted by the likes of Andrew Tate (awaiting trial for human trafficking and rape) is radicalising Australian schoolboys

Exterior of the Department of Treasury, Canberra

Tax to grind

Tax reform should not be centred on what we want, but on who we want to be

In This Issue

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Ticked off

Image of The Saints’ Chris Bailey at the Pig City show, Brisbane, July 2007. © Marc Grimwade

Tales from pig city

The Saints

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.


Let a thousand weeds bloom

Andrew Keen’s ‘The Cult of the Amateur’

More in Arts & Letters

David Malouf, March 2015 in Sydney

An imagined life: David Malouf

Celebrating the literary great’s 90th birthday with a visit to his incongruous home of Surfers Paradise to discuss a life in letters

Tony McNamara in New York City, January 2024

Pure things: Tony McNamara

How the Australian screenwriter of ‘Poor Things’, who cut his teeth on shows such as ‘The Secret Life of Us’, earnt his second Oscar nomination

Jeffrey Wright in ‘American Fiction’

The dread of the author: ‘American Fiction’ and ‘Argylle’

Cord Jefferson’s satire about Black artists fighting white perceptions of their work runs out of ideas, while Matthew Vaughn’s spy movie parody has no ideas of its own

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Pictures of you

The award-winning author kicks off our new fiction series with a story of coming to terms with a troubled father’s obsessions

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 latest

Osamah Sami with members of his local mosque

In ‘House of Gods’, Sydney’s Muslim community gets to be complicated

Plus, Barnaby Joyce shines in ‘Nemesis’, Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott deliver ‘Bottoms’, and Chloë Sevigny and Molly Ringwald step up for ‘Feud: Capote vs. The Swans’.

International Film Festival Rotterdam highlights

Films from Iran, Ukraine and Bundaberg were deserving winners at this year’s festival

Two women on a train smile and shake hands

‘Expats’ drills down on Hong Kong’s class divide

Plus, Netflix swallows Trent Dalton, Deborah Mailman remains in ‘Total Control’ and ‘Vanderpump Rules’ returns for another season

Image of a man playing music using electronics and the kora (West African harp)

Three overlooked albums of spiritual jazz from 2023

Recent releases by kora player John Haycock, trumpeter Matthew Halsall and 14-piece jazz ensemble Ancient Infinity Orchestra feel like a refuge from reality