The officers and sailors of Royal Australian Navy Survey Ship HMAS Benalla (II) have visited the ship’s namesake city of Benalla, Victoria to conduct their first Freedom of Entry march in over 15 years.
The Ship’s Company’s return to the rural city was the culmination of more than 18 months’ planning and coordination involving Navy, Benalla Rural City Council and the local Victorian Police command.
For a city with a population of just under 10,000, the turnout to greet the Ship’s Company and the Navy Band was exemplary.
The Navy personnel made their way along the Midland Highway for a ceremonial crossing of the bridge over Lake Benalla and entry into the city.
Victoria Police Senior Sergeant, Mike Byers, called the parade to a halt prior to the crossing and issued the traditional challenge.
Commanding Officer HMAS Benalla, Lieutenant Commander Adrian Eddy, answered the challenge before being permitted entry into the city with ‘weapons drawn, flags flying and band playing’, under review of Senior Naval Officer – Victoria, Commodore Greg Locke, CSC, RAN and Benalla Rural City Mayor, Councillor Scott Upston.
During the march, the parade performed an ‘eyes right’ to recognise the memorials of war heroes Colonel Sir Ernest Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop, AC, CMG, OBE, and Captain Hector Waller, DSO and Bar, who were both born in the area.
Mayor Upston said he was very honoured and proud of both his city and of HMAS Benalla.
“It was a fantastic turn out, to see all the school kids crossing the bridge, they were excited and elated to be part of the ceremony. It was just fantastic,” Councillor Upston said.
“This event is significant on many levels as it’s steeped in military customs and traditions for everyone; for our early veterans, for our local WWII heroes Weary Dunlop and Captain Hec Waller, and for current RAN personnel to be able exercise their Freedom of Entry.
“I’m blown away by the crowd. It was absolutely fantastic to see that many people turn up.
“It reiterates the connection between the rural community and the men and women of the Defence Force, and how high we regard those people who choose to serve our country.”
Lieutenant Commander Eddy said the Benalla Rural City Council had been overwhelming with their support.
“The rarity and significance of such an event, in the middle of regional Victoria, was not lost on them,” Lieutenant Commander Eddy said.
“The opportunity to participate in something so steeped in tradition and an embodiment of trust between the local populace and the Australian Defence Force is really quite humbling.
“It was an honour and privilege to put together an event with so many moving parts and, 18 months after the initial concept, it all worked quite nicely and the turnout was just phenomenal.
“It just goes to show that the link between the City of Benalla and HMAS Benalla remains strong.”
HMAS Benalla will soon join sister ship, HMAS Shepparton, for a deployment to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands in support of Australia’s Enhanced Regional Engagement initiative.