One Commissioning Lady has taken more than a passing interest in her ship over three decades since she smashed a bottle of champagne against the hull of a newly commissioned warship.
Known affectionately as Mum among the ship’s company of HMAS Darwin, Mrs Joan Johnston returned for lunch 33 years on, alongside in Fremantle, Western Australia.
Mrs Johnston said she had practised smashing bottles in the days leading up to the 1984 commissioning to avoid bringing bad luck to the ship.
She said she was disappointed to arrive on the day to find she only had to press a button to release the bottle, rather than swing it herself.
“I wanted to ensure I got it right on the first try. I wanted to avoid bringing any bad luck to the ship by failing to smash the bottle,” she said.
“I was also surprised and amused when people at the ceremony mistakenly thought I was royalty and doffed their caps and curtseyed.”
Mrs Johnston is the widow of the late Commodore Eric Johnston, AO, AM, OBE, RAN who served in the Royal Australian Navy from 1947-80 and was the Northern Territory’s Administrator from 1981-89.
The lunch was a welcome break for the crew of Darwin, which had just participated in a major multinational exercise held off the Western Australian coast.
Able Seaman Electronics Technician Darcy Barlow, who attended the lunch, said it was a joy to meet ‘Mum’.
“She told us of her love for Darwin and the Northern Territory, and of her experiences when Cyclone Tracy roared through the city.
“In particular, she spoke about the defence community and how it felt like one big family during the clean-up efforts. Spending time with Mrs Johnston was an amazing experience, like being taken through a history lesson,” Able Seaman Barlow said.
The city of Darwin was devastated early on Christmas morning 1974 when hit by Cyclone Tracy. The defence forces played a major role in cleaning up the city and suburbs.
Smashing a bottle of alcohol on a ship’s hull is a centuries-old tradition that signifies good fortune for the ship. In mariner superstition, it is seen as bad luck for the ship if the bottle does not break.