04 Apr Tuta Aqua
You may be thinking it’s a strange title to this short narrative, From the Latin …”Tuta Aqua” translates to …”Safe Water”. I have been asked to share with you my experiences during my career in the Royal Australian Navy’s Mine Warfare branch. I joined the RAN as a young kid straight out of school originating from a NSW country town, further I had no connection or family members who joined the service. By a set of personal circumstances I left home in 1988 as a young, frightened kid that couldn’t even shave properly and embarked on journey that lasted sixteen years.
After surviving nine months at HMAS Cerberus in Western Port Bay, I was rated as a “Quartermaster Gunner” charged with the maintenance and operation of ships weapons systems. For the next few years I was travelling the world and experienced many things perhaps I shouldn’t share in this story. During this time I was deployed to the Persian Gulf on Operation Damask, this was the first naval operational deployment since the Vietnam Conflict of the 1970’s. Needless to say I was …”Sh** Scared” but excited of the opportunity to serve.
During this time I had my first encounter with naval sea mines and the men that were charged with the detection and prosecution of these weapons.
We were in the area of operations for nine months and during this time we were required to conduct numerous tasks especially on watch on the forecastle as a lookout and with a loaded L1A1 Self Loading Rifle at the ready to engage these weapons when they were positively identified. There were numerous occasions whereby we detonated these devices, this spiked my interest into this specialised world.
Upon returning to Australia in early 1991 I was hooked and commenced the process of transferring into the newly formed Mine Warfare Branch at HMAS Waterhen. Fast forward two years, I was eventually qualified as a young MW and embarking onto my first mine sweeper. These days I remember fondly as we operated outside of normal naval operations, we dressed differently, we acted differently and on occasion were labelled pirates. We operated as a squadron, one unit. The branch had a full complement at the time of about 100 personnel. This cultivated a brotherhood that is still strong today. Like many ex-servicemen we enjoy a bond only a few men encounter in their working life.
The primary purpose of Mine Counter Measure (MCM) vessels is to advance ahead of the fleet and lead them through approaches and channels safely. This required us to deploy long sweep wires with explosive cutters that are designed to engage the mooring wires of the buoyant mine and render it inert enough for clearance divers or “Bubble Heads” to weave their magic in the disposal of these weapons. These vessels were converted from wooden fishing trawlers that adapted commercial equipment such as winches, long serrated wires and depressors that enabled the wires to be splayed out to create a swath in the water to capture these weapons.
A normal day would involve being at sea on small vessels that were not built for extended durations in rough weather, the living spaces were cramped and small. We travelled throughout Australian waters and ventured into the South Pacific on occasion on operations.
Our working day consisted of 16-20 hours with interrupted sleep as we were operating around the clock. By day or night we worked on deck in all conditions, further we encountered other RAN surface and sub surface units on operation.
The years passed very quickly and new technologies were introduced into this very specialized field within the RAN community. My postings saw me commissioning Coastal Mine Hunters, working with analysts and embark on many trials and exercises whilst maintaining a body of knowledge in navigation, firefighting, maritime engineering and maritime tactical operations.
In 2005 I decided to leave the navy after sixteen years, the skills, experience and attributes I attained during my service has equipped me with the behavioural and technical acumen needed in my current field as a safety professional. It’s with fond memory I recall these exciting days and the lifelong friends I have had the honour to serve with.
…“May you have fair seas and the wind at your back”.