Call Sign: Victor-Lima-Romeo-November
HMAS Gladstone - (P216)
Commissioned in September 1984, after being constructed by North Queensland Engineers and Agents in Cairns, and based at Cairns for her entire life, Gladstone (affectionately known by many as “Sadrock”) contributed to border protection and regional engagement for twenty two years, and covered over 618,000 miles (994574.5 kms). She continued her mission with alacrity right to the end.
Gladstone and her 14 sister Fremantle Class Patrol Boats (FCPBs) were the Navy’s principle contribution to the nation’s fisheries protection, immigration, customs and drug law enforcement operations. The vessels worked hand -in- hand with other Government agencies and each year they provided up to 1800 patrol days as part of the Coastwatch-managed national surveillance effort. In the event of war they would have been tasked to control the waters close to the Australian mainland. They were well prepared for their patrol duties and other operational requirements.
Gladstone was equipped with high definition navigational radar, high and ultra-high frequency communications equipment, gyro compasses and echo sounder. She was also fitted with a satellite navigation system that enabled the ship’s position to be determined with great accuracy. Much of this equipment, although now disabled, remains on board. In her twenty two years of service Gladstone was involved in many rescues, pursuits, and apprehensions in our northern waters. During one six-week patrol from Thursday Island she was involved in the rescue of a local fisherman, a change of command and a number of fisheries boardings, including the apprehension of three Indonesian Type III fishing vessels. The first vessel was boarded at sunset, the second three hours later and the third occurred early next morning - a busy time indeed. In 2006 she was involved in the apprehension of ten illegal fishing boats one of which contained about 750 kg of illegally caught reef fish. She was also involved in duties in East Timor and the Solomon Islands.
During her career Gladstone was three times granted Freedom of the City, firstly in 1988 by Mayor Col Brown, again during a visit in July 2000, by Mayor Peter Corones and finally on 26th January 2007 on her last visit to our city, six weeks before being decommissioned on 13th February in Cairns. From May 2005 onwards the Fremantle Class Patrol Boats were replaced by fourteen Armidale Class Patrol Boats, the last FCPB was decommissioned in 2007.
HMAS Gladstone II and HMAS Townsville have been marked for preservation as Museum Ships in their namesake towns. The other thirteen FCPBs have either been sold for scrap or are awaiting disposal.
Acquiring Gladstone for the City of Gladstone when she was decommissioned was a cherished ambition of the members of the Gladstone Maritime History Society Inc. Lobbying began with the assistance of then-Member for Hinkler Mr Paul Neville. Hopes were dashed when the Navy decided to extend the service life of their Fremantle Class Patrol Boats. Eighteen months before the extension of the service expired the Society advised the Defence Material Organisation that it was still very keen to have HMAS Gladstone allocated to the City of Gladstone.
From 2005, the Society went through a number of procedures, including Expression of Interest and then tendering for the vessel. These documents had to be supported by letters of support from Member for Hinkler, Mr Paul Neville, Member for Gladstone, Mrs Liz Cunningham and the Mayor of the City, Peter Corones, along with an Exhibition and Business Plan. A key component of the plan was the generous offer by the Gladstone Ports Corporation to allow the vessel to be displayed on a site at the mouth of Auckland Inlet, previously used as a slipway.
Gladstone was decommissioned in her home base of Cairns on 13th March 2006 and the same day was gifted to the Gladstone Maritime History Society Inc. Two of our members travelled to Cairns and made the delivery trip on board to her new home in Gladstone. At a ceremony at Gladstone on Friday 30th March 2007, she was officially handed over to then-Mayor Peter Corones by her last Commander, Jonathan Dick. Mayor Corones then handed her over to the Gladstone Maritime History Society.
For a period of several years Gladstone lay at anchor in the Gladstone Marina. She was visited regularly by a dedicated group of members from the Maritime History Society who gave her the attention she required. Her machinery may have been silent and her instruments quiet but one had a strange feeling of intrigue and excitement when moving around her corridors and cabins. The stainless steel of the galley shone and the manifolds of the V16s in the engine room still gleamed. Standing in the Engineers Room surrounded by gauges and lights one could imagine the noise, heat and vibration that would occur with all the machinery running. But she was silent, and there was a strange serenity about the whole boat as time passed.
A volunteer-driven project spanning several years eventually brought Gladstone to reside permanently at the East Shores – Gladstone Coal Exporters Maritime Precinct on 24th November 2014. The vessel has become a centrepiece of the Maritime Museum and a focus of community interest. Since opening for tours Gladstone become an important attraction in our city.
The Gladstone Maritime History Society Inc. is pleased to be playing a role in the preservation of this important part of naval history.