HUNTER Antarctic expedition veterans are hoping the nation's stunning new $1.9billion icebreaker Nuyina will be a special visitor to Newcastle next year.
Meanwhile, the mammoth ship with state-of-the-art technology is due to arrive in its new home port of Hobart, Tasmania, on Saturday, October 16, after a 24,000km voyage from Europe.
It is only the third major purpose-built Australian Antarctic vessel in 110 years - and two of them have strong Newcastle links.
The new, bespoke vessel replaces a similar but smaller ship, the Aurora Australis, which was launched by Carrington Slipways at its Tomago shipyard back in 1989.
However, the future of this now retired Hunter-built ship - in service for 31 years until 2020 - is uncertain. There is speculation it may be sold to Argentina to continue its previous Southern Ocean scientific work.
The 95-metre-long Aurora is believed to be overseas undergoing a refit.
The colourful Aurora Australis, affectionally called the 'Orange Roughy', succeeded the country's first real Antarctic and sub-Antarctic vessel, the SY (or steam yacht) Aurora (1876 - 1917).
This stout former wooden whaling vessel and recently retired icebreaker vanished without trace after leaving Newcastle Harbour in June 1917 taking coal to Chile, in South America.
Fast forward now 100 years later, to June 2017, when the Australian National Research Expeditions (ANARE) Club unveiled a brass memorial plaque inside Newcastle's Christ Church Cathedral to honour the Aurora and the 21 crew lost at sea.
The barque SY Aurora had first been used by polar explorer Sir Douglas Mawson (1911-1914) and then by Sir Ernest Shackleton's Ross Sea Party (1914-1917) to explore the icy continent.
Now the search goes on to assemble rare relics from the SY Aurora to eventually put together in a museum. Until recently, only one item was believed to still exist. Recovered at sea, that was an original Aurora lifebuoy presented to the nation on the 100th anniversary of the ship's loss and briefly exhibited in 2017 inside Newcastle's Anglican Cathedral.
The SY Aurora was named after moving lights in the night sky while Newcastle's old Aurora Australis is named after nature's vivid southern hemisphere light show. And the name of Australia's newest icebreaker also evokes the names of past ships. Nuyina means "southern lights" in the language of Tasmanian Aboriginals.
The 160-metre-long Romanian-built Nuyina is regarded as a game-changer for Antarctic scientific missions. It is faster, stronger, larger with increased endurance than other vessels presently used. It is large enough to carry four helicopters and can resupply two of Australia's four Antarctic and sub-Antarctic bases in one voyage.
The 25,000-tonne bright red vessel can crunch through 1.6metres of ice at a speed of three knots and can carry 34 crew and up to 116 scientific personnel. The ship, with a maximum speed of 16knots (30kph), can withstand 14-metre seas and has been designed to last 30 years.
The imposing ship will the Antarctic's top research and supply vessel "until the Russians or Chinese" decide to upgrade their icebreakers, according to ANARE Club vice-president David Dodd, in Melbourne.
As for Newcastle's own (now retired) Aurora Australis, Dodd expects it will be snapped up to be reused by another nation.
"I'd like to see Nuyina poke its head into Newcastle harbour. It would be great publicity for the AAD (Australian Antarctic Division) if there was a goodwill tour along the (east) coast after upcoming sea trials and if it wasn't resupplying any bases this current season.
"And making next year special is that it is the 75th anniversary of ANARE. But there might be complications with visitors because of Covid as the ship has to be squeaky clean going down to Antarctica."
IN THE NEWS:
- Pubs ready to reopen, but AHA warns it's not time to let loose
- NSW cautioned ahead of 'exciting time'
- Unvaccinated under 40s driving Hunter COVID spread, Indigenous cases balloon
- Third coronavirus jab for most vulnerable
- Hunter Hendra virus case confirmed
- PROPERTY: Beaumont Street block draws Newcastle, Sydney interest
Dodd also confirmed an old Hunter workboat used in Antarctica had been bought for a token $1 and it might end up as a memento in Tasmania.
As for the search for artefacts of the original SY Aurora, Dodd said although the barque once lost an anchor in Commonwealth Bay in Antarctica, it might be 10 years before any hunt for it began.
Rather surprisingly besides the recovered lifebuoy, he revealed there are three more known surviving physical artefacts from Australia's lost pioneer icebreaker.
One is a walking stick made from a souvenired bottom plank of Aurora when the ship was in Victoria's Williamstown dock being repaired in October 1913 before returning to her South Pole duties.
"Another was once part of the Aurora's helm. This second wheel to steer the ship was thought unnecessary, removed (in 1911) and was later found in storage at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney," Dodd said.
"The third item is the Aurora's pennant. When the ship was first bought sight unseen from Newfoundland to be made ready for Antarctica, it was called a yacht to get around British board of trade survey regulations.
"The prestigious Royal Thames Yacht Club came to the party. Its flag did then go down to Antarctica with the ship and then when Mawson came back to Britain (in 1914) to be knighted he gave it back to the club.
"Much later I found it in a club back corridor and alerted them to its significance. The pennant has now moved to one of the club's main corridors."
Dodd said the ageing SY Aurora, a collier when lost at sea in 1917 after leaving Newcastle, might also be called an unofficial troopship.
"It was lost going to Chile with a coal cargo to then load nitrates for Europe. The captain and the ship's crew were all going back to Britain to enlist in the first World War, then raging," he said.
"When the Aurora (mysteriously) sank after leaving Newcastle, people searched the Pacific for six months, including remote Pitcairn Island for any clues.
"The lost ship is a really cold case. And although its lifebuoy was finally found off the North Coast, I believe no search was ever made for wreckage on South Solitary islands group. I'm really hoping maybe someone knows, maybe remembers a Coffs Harbour fisherman finding wreckage washed up there from years before, but not reporting it."
David Dodd said he now also had a new ship's bell for the new icebreaker Nuyina in Bendigo waiting to be engraved and presented on behalf of the ANARE Club.
Dodd was saddened to learn of the demise of Newcastle's Maritime Museum, particularly in view of the Hunter's proud seafaring and shipbuilding past.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content: