The last-survivor tames the ‘Twerp’

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Will Singer (author)

Topic(s): Naval Heritage and History

Left: HMAS Wyatt Earp in Antarctic waters off Young Island, March 1948. Right: Able Seaman Norman Tame, member of HMAS Wyatt Earp's voyage to Antarctica in 1947-48. (photo: )
Left: HMAS Wyatt Earp in Antarctic waters off Young Island, March 1948. Right: Able Seaman Norman Tame, member of HMAS Wyatt Earp's voyage to Antarctica in 1947-48.

To some, the relationship between a farm-boy from the outskirts of Melbourne and a gun-slinging US marshal of Dodge City and Tombstone may seem uncanny.

Faced with a scarcity of jobs, former water-tank builder Norman Tame followed his mates and joined the Royal Australian Navy almost 80 years ago.

Mr Tame said he joined at the Flinders Navy Depot on 8 July 1940 as a 17-year-old because he was too young for the Army.

“Jobs were hard to find in the country, many friends had joined the services and, to me, the Navy seemed like a good idea,” Mr Tame said.

Mr Tame’s 15-year Navy service included involvement in the Coral Sea battle, Tarakan and Manus Island, and he is the last surviving member of the voyage to Antarctica in 1947-48 to mention a few of his exploits.

He was seconded to the Royal Australian Navy’s only Antarctic Exploration Vessel, HMAS Wyatt Earp, in 1947, for a planned voyage to Antarctica - which lasted around three months.

Wyatt Earp was a small, nondescript wooden-hulled motor vessel purchased and renamed by American explorer Lincoln Ellsworth in memory of the legendary US marshal of Dodge City and Tombstone.

Its silhouette resembled that of an ageing offshore fishing craft, but its weather deck was packed from stem to stern with supplies and equipment for Antarctic exploration.

“The voyage was incredibly exciting and memorable - to survey the Balleny Islands, conduct depth soundings and use weather balloons, which the sailors were shooting at,” Mr Tame said.

“It was my responsibility to carry Laurie Le Guay’s camera (the official photographer on board for the expedition) completely wrapped in hot water bottles to prevent the shutter from seizing in the extreme weather conditions.

“The wildlife was exquisite and the vastness incomparable to anything I had seen before, but it was very cold - the average temperature was -12 degrees Celcius outside and 25 inside,” he said.

Naval Historical Officer, Mr Rob Garratt, said that Wyatt Earp held a unique place in the history of the Royal Australian Navy, as both HMA Ships Wyatt Earp and HMAS Wongala.

“It was employed as a Fleet Auxiliary, an Examination Vessel, a Guard Ship, a Mother Ship to the Naval Auxiliary Patrol and a Sea Cadet training ship before being re-converted for Antarctic exploration,” Mr Garratt said.

Mr Tame discharged from the Royal Australian Navy on 31 August 1955.

In 2017, Mr Tame and his wife, Julia, travelled to New York to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea on the Intrepid, moored on the Hudson River.

The trip to the United States was made possible by the Australia-America Association, by former US Ambassador to Australia Mr Berry, and by the Navy.