Marking 40 years since she and her sisters, HMA Ships Brunei and Buna, last retracted, HMAS Labuan has beached at the exact place of their last mission at Lord Howe Island.
Now on her decommissioning voyage, the Landing Craft Heavy (LCH) kissed the sand of Prince William Henry Bay in darkness on Sunday 9 August.
Labuan's Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Christopher Cockerill said it was great to see such support for Navy from a small community.
"We were expecting the local police sergeant on the beach; however, we were pleasantly surprised by the large turnout of locals," Lieutenant Cockerill said.
Labuan’s last ever drying-out routine under an Austalian White Ensign allowed the small community a rare, up-close look at an Australian warship.
With the bow door down and the ship open to visitors, several locals approached the members of the ship's dutywatch to recount their own childhood memories of the ship’s first beachings. Leading Seaman Christopher Gamble said it was great to be able to beach the ship one last time on the Island.
"This is a special occasion, not just because it’s our last drying-out routine, but because of our shared history with Lord Howe Island," Leading Seaman Gamble said.
The arrival of the LCHs in 1974 was a significant event for Lord Howe Island. The ships, along with a Squadron from the Royal Australian Army Corps of Engineers assisted in the construction of the Island’s airport. The unique capability of the LCH enabled the transportation of essential equipment to an island with no deep water berths.
The airport made way for increased tourism as well as providing locals with easy access to the mainland, giving the isolated community a much needed economic boost.
During the recent three day visit, the ship's companies of Labuan and Tarakan explored the island’s pristine beaches, rugged tracks and inspiring mountains. All agreed the island was a paradise but the ship's golfers and fishermen were particularly sorry to depart. The Lord Howe Island community farewelled the sailors with a fish barbeque and games of lawn bowls.
Both ships are now en route to New Caledonia to participate in Exercise CROIX DU SUD. All three remaining LCHs will decommission in late 2014.
HMAS Buna was decomissioned in 1974 and transfered to the Papua New Guinea Defence Force.