HMAS Australia part of Walcha's history

HMAS Australia at sea in 1913, as shown in the Walcha souvenir.
HMAS Australia at sea in 1913, as shown in the Walcha souvenir.

Charles Thompson MHR wrote to the Walcha Municipal Council in August 1924 to say he had arranged for a souvenir of HMAS Australia to be provided to the various councils in his electorate.

It was a framed photograph of the warship that now hangs in the Historical Society’s Pioneer Cottage in Derby Street. The frame is made from the warship’s teak decking, which was among the many items salvaged before it was scuttled 30 miles off Sydney in April 1924.

HMAS Australia was an Indefatigable Class Battle Cruiser laid down in the UK in June 1910. It was commissioned in June 1913 and was the flagship of the newly formed Royal Australian Navy. Half of its crew were British and half were Australian.

The warship was placed under the control of the British Admiralty and initially served in the Pacific before being dispatched to Europe where it became the flagship of the newly formed 2nd Battleship Squadron. Despite its lengthy service during World War I the only shot fired in anger was in December 1917. It fired on a suspected enemy submarine while on escort duty in the North Sea.

Another of its wartime duties was to guard the enemy battle cruiser Hindenberg in the Firth of Forth following the surrender of the German fleet in November 1918.

Canon Frederick Riley, who was the Anglican Vicar at Walcha from September 1919 until August 1922, was appointed Chaplain of HMAS Australia during the time of its construction and was present at its launch. He was on active service aboard the ship for the first two years of the war and then a senior instructor at the Royal Naval College, Jervis Bay.

Phil Langley, who was Walcha’s mayor in the early 1920s, wrote an appreciation of Riley following his death at Armidale in August 1960 saying in part: “The Rev and Mrs. Riley travelled the district in the parish’s red T Model Ford to help those stricken by the dreadful Spanish flu. They took soup, cooked meals, washed up and made beds for the sick.”

Langley also recalled that in 1922, before Walcha’s War Memorial was built, Riley arranged for a timber cross to be erected at the intersection of Fitzroy and Derby Streets where people laid wreaths before marching to the Anzac Day service at the showground.

This story Battle cruiser’s Walcha connection first appeared on Walcha News.