Meet HMAS Albatross (later known as HMS Albatross).
It was the aircraft carrier that wasn't (at least, not in the conventional sense of a modern "flat top" vessel) and its design was dated from the start.
It turned out, however, to be a very versatile ship, faithfully serving two navies at opposite ends of the earth, as well as commercial shipping interests for 25 years before being scrapped.
Launched in February 1928 at Sydney's Cockatoo Dockyard and commissioned the following year, HMAS Albatross was a compromise vessel.
Built between the two world wars to provide employment for workers in the Depression-era, the warship was then mothballed only four years later in 1933, but would later end up supporting Allied forces at D-Day in Normandy in 1944.
Known now as HMS Albatross, it served as a repair-ship, saving 132 craft from destruction.
Hit soon by a German torpedo, about 66 crew died. Despite suffering major structural damage, however, Albatross survived to be towed back to England for repairs. It then briefly become a minesweeper depot ship, then after WWII ended, it was to be converted into a floating cabaret moored at Torquay, England.
Instead, it became a passenger liner, chartered in 1949 as a refugee transport to relocate displaced people from Europe to Australia. Renamed the Hellenic Prince in 1953, the vessel ended up being used for one last military duty, serving as a troopship during the Mau Mau uprising in Africa.
The outstanding vessel was finally broken up for scrap in Hong Kong in 1954, ending a long and distinguished career despite an unpromising beginning.
Very early on, while with the Royal Australian Navy, the HMAS Albatross even came to Newcastle in 1930. Herald reader Keith Parsons recently alerted Weekender to the event, sparking my interest in researching the unusual looking vessel which, back in 1929, was described as "the largest warship built in Australia".
Displacing 4800 tons and more than 443ft (135metres) long with a beam of 58ft (18m), the hull of HMAS Albatross had an unusually high freeboard and a long forward section (see picture).
It was an ungainly, one-off craft, built from the keel up as the RAN's first dedicated seaplane carrier. But although the vessel carried nine aircraft (six active with three in reserve) in internal forward hangars, the planes all had to be lifted over the side by cranes and only then in calm water.
People were in awe of the vessel's "stately grace" when it entered Newcastle Harbour on Tuesday, September 30, 1930.
Facing a rising militarism in the Far East at that time, the construction of HMAS Albatross was a brave gamble.
Until then, seaplane carriers were normally converted merchant ships.
The RAN had wanted a proper seaplane platform, but a conventional 'flat top' aircraft carrier was beyond the RAN's ability to either pay for, or adequately man, so a basic British design was selected instead.
But the Fairley seaplanes initially chosen for RAN use were ruled out. Then the replacement, the Supermarine Seagull Mark III, weren't robust enough for future catapult launches.
Then Seagull Mark V aircraft/Walrus aircraft were chosen shortly before HMAS Albatross was withdrawn from seagoing service (in 1933).
But that didn't matter. People were in awe of the vessel's "stately grace" when it entered Newcastle Harbour on Tuesday, September 30, 1930.
The "steel grey mother of fast-flying war birds" was a smash hit with at least 3000 people visiting the warship here during its brief goodwill visit.
Times soon changed. The vessel was decommissioned in 1933 and was then traded to the Royal Navy in 1938 as part payment for the new HMAS Hobart.
As HMS Albatross, the warship came into its own overseas, after Britain lost two of its aircraft carriers early in WWII. It was used as a convoy escort, for air-sea rescues in the Atlantic and anti-submarine warfare before serving at Sword and Juno beaches as a fleet repair ship during D-Day in 1944.
Today, the ship HMAS/HMS Albatross may be gone but the proud name has lived on since August 1948 as the Naval Air Station at Nowra, on the NSW South Coast.
OPEN DAYS AT STRANGE GARDEN
WHAT is probably the most significant house from the former Newcastle BHP Steelworks epoch will be open to the public next Sunday and Monday, March 21 and 22.
Known simply as Delprat's Cottage, the modest red-brick structure is hidden away off Industrial Drive at Mayfield East.
It was built by BHP management as the Newcastle home of BHP's dynamic general manager Guillaume Delprat so he could see construction progress on his Port Waratah steelworks on a huge, unpromising, waterlogged site.
From his bedroom window Delprat could see the wide expanse of flat land, reclaimed from swamp beside the Hunter River.
The BHP steelworks finally opened in 1915 and was the basis for large-scale 20th century industrialisation in Australia.
At its peak in 1964, the Hunter site employed more than 11,500 people, but then closed after 84 years. The vast site now lies cleared and empty, ready for re-development, as possibly a container terminal.
In September 1935, 14 years after he retired, the Dutch-born Delprat briefly returned to Newcastle at BHP's invitation and his old cottage was again offered to him as accommodation.
Delprat though was very surprised to learn his steelworks were now twice the size they were when he last saw them.
His home was built on the only high ground BHP owned. After he retired, his cottage was used as offices before being abandoned.
It has since been restored for use as a heritage centre.
And now Delprat's Cottage, screened by trees from the road, has another claim to fame.
The Newcastle Industrial Heritage Association (NIHA), in partnership with the University of Newcastle, has a special garden on site.
Called 'Phytoremediation', it's an unusual garden in that no one can eat what the garden produces.
As NIHA president Bob Cook explains: "The site of Delprat's Cottage was originally planned for botanical gardens, but BHP bought it instead. Now, the university has installed a garden research project in the cottage grounds".
It all makes perfect sense on realising phytoremediation refers to the process of using plants to clean soil, air and water of contaminants.
NIHA secretary Keith Lowe believes the concept may even be a world first. It follows earlier university experiments at White Bay, in Sydney.
"The whole university project is about seeing what toxins can be pulled out of the soil," Lowe says.
"There's a variety of things being grown to test, and we learn, for example, that sunflowers can pull lead out of soil.
"So, there's flower, vegetable and fruit growing involved. But we're not allowed to have anything to eat. It's all taken away for tests," Lowe says.
"At the moment, watermelons and passionfruit are being grown to analyse the results."
Delprat's Cottage and garden are at 133A Ingall Street, Mayfield, and is open for tours on March 21 and 22 between 10am and 2pm. Entry is free. Devonshire teas are available for $5.
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