Charities say goodbye and a heartfelt thank you

Published on LEUT Debra Holland (author), ABIS Steven Thomson (photographer)

Commanding Officer HMAS Tobruk, Commander Leif Maxfield presents a $10,000 cheque raised from the ships welfare fund to Assistant Principal, Five Islands School Sonja Drewitt onboard HMAS Tobruk during it's last visit to Newcastle, NSW, prior to it's decommissioning.  (photo: ABIS Steven Thomson)
Commanding Officer HMAS Tobruk, Commander Leif Maxfield presents a $10,000 cheque raised from the ships welfare fund to Assistant Principal, Five Islands School Sonja Drewitt onboard HMAS Tobruk during it's last visit to Newcastle, NSW, prior to it's decommissioning.

The decommissioning of HMAS Tobruk will mark the end of the ship’s links with two community organisations in the Hunter region of New South Wales.

Each ship in the Royal Australian Navy nominates charities that become the focus of fundraising and community engagement by the ship’s company.  For the past five years Tobruk has been a proud supporter of the Five Islands School in the Lake Macquarie suburb of Booragul, and Morriset and Toronto Meals on Wheels.

In June, a complement of the ship’s crew and Army Detachment travelled from Fleet Base East in Sydney to Lake Macquarie to make their final call on the two organisations.  While their goodbyes were tinged with sadness, both organisations have been left with a parting legacy from the ship. 

Tobruk has funded a new dishwasher, storage facilities and two laptops to Morriset and Toronto Meals and Wheels; vital equipment for the dedicated volunteers whose clients include a large percentage of veterans and war widows.   

“Our clients have loved meeting the young serving men and women of Tobruk, and the crew have been outstanding in the care and patience they show to our people," said service manager Ms Toni Bull. 

"The meal runs have taken twice as long as usual, as the crew have taken the time to sit and listen and the veterans have enjoyed showing their memorabilia and medals.

“We received the NSW Meals on Wheels Innovation Award in 2013 for linking with a naval ship as this has never been seen before in Meals on Wheels history.  

“Through Tobruk, we have established a strong relationship with our local RSL and we talk with them regularly regarding our veteran clients,” she said.  

“We marched on Anzac Day and were proud to have some of the Tobruk crew carry our banner and our service received a resounding cheer from spectators.

“An absolute highlight for clients and volunteers was a trip to visit Tobruk for lunch in the ship’s mess - Navigating a naval ship with walkers and elderly folk was a challenge but the crew were amazing!” she said.

The ship’s second charity, the Five Islands School, caters for moderately to severely disabled students with autism, physical and intellectual impairments, global developmental delays, sensory deprivation and also children in palliative care.  Tobruk’s sailors have taken part in working bees, helped out in the classroom and have accompanied the students on a whole school excursion – it was a unique experience for all involved.

Assistant Principal, Ms Sonja Drewitt, and her staff received a pleasant surprise during their tour on board Tobruk during the ship’s final port visit to Newcastle; a cheque for $10,000.

“It was totally unexpected, amazing, humbling and overwhelming, a few of us shed happy tears,” she said.

“I have always envisioned a stand-alone sensory room for the school, one where there is specialised lighting, audio and sound effects, wheel chair accessibility, a room that is calming, comfortable and one that is adaptive and can meet the needs of all students.

“I would love to use the money for this, it would be named the ‘Tobruk Sensory Place’.

“It is very sad that the connection has come to an end.  There have been many great memories made and experiences shared, and HMAS Tobruk will always have a special place in our school and will always be part of the Five Islands Family,” she said.