Milne Bay survey a wealth of history and culture

This article has photo gallery Published on MIDN Josh Allen (author), LEUT Simon Wolski (photographer), ABHSO Mardi Pritchard (photographer)

Location(s):

HMAS Leeuwin berthed at the Marine Wharf in Alotau within Milne Bay. (photo: ABHSO Mardi Pritchard)
HMAS Leeuwin berthed at the Marine Wharf in Alotau within Milne Bay.

HMAS Leeuwin's ship's company had been conducting hydrographic survey operations off the south-east coast of Papua New Guinea for a number of weeks, when a resupply visit to Alotau gave the crew a chance to reflect on Australian service past.

Maritime Logistics Officer, Lieutenant Nicole Francis, said the visit to the capital of Milne Bay Province was for fuel and stores, but provided a port visit rich in Second World War history, due to the Battle of Milne Bay in 1942.

"Alotau means ‘beautiful bay’ and it's hard to imagine the tropical setting witnessing such fierce fighting," Lieutenant Francis said. 

"The battle lasted 12 days and was vitally important as this was the first Allied defeat of the Japanese forces on land.

"Some of us were able to pay our respects to those who died here at the Milne Bay War Memorial and to reflect on the sacrifices on both sides."

Member of HS Red Crew in front of the Battle of Milne Bay memorial in the township of Alotau PNG during a recent port visit.

Member of HS Red Crew in front of the Battle of Milne Bay memorial in the township of Alotau PNG during a recent port visit.

It was estimated that 750 Japanese and 161 Australians were killed at Milne Bay with many more wounded. 

Once the ship was secured and victuals were stored, some personnel were able to take a well-earned break and explore the modern day Milne Bay and surrounds.

Officer of the Watch, Lieutenant Mark Hayter said that the respite was a welcome break from the mental rigour required for surveying.

"Many of us spent the time exploring the town but more adventurous activities undertaken ranged from a challenging hike to a waterfall, of which offered picturesque views of the surrounding area, to a day tour which guided the group to a local village, where we were welcomed by children performing traditional dances," he said.

"We snorkelled over an amazing, untouched reef and took a short trek to see some of the local caves which contain skulls of native inhabitants from pre-missionary times."

The port visit in Alotau provided the crew with a great opportunity to explore the township, rest and recuperate, in preparation for the final stage of the survey.

Leeuwin will handover to HMA Ships Benalla and Shepparton to continue surveying the local waters to contribute to the navigational safety of the region.