June 14, 2019 – One hundred and ninety years of Navy presence on the unique shores of Garden Island, Western Australia was celebrated recently at HMAS Stirling.
The event, which was attended by a number of dignitaries including the Governor of Western Australia, The Hon Kim Beazley AC; previous commanding officers, and serving members and families, took place at the Sir James Stirling Mess, named after the Royal Navy officer who first landed on the island on 7 June 1829.
Stirling’s Commanding Officer Captain Ainsley Morthorpe said he was still coming to terms with the amazing history and biodiversity of Garden Island after recently taking command of the base.
“Having resisted a posting to Western Australia for various reasons over the past 27 years, it is only now that I have come to realize what I’ve been missing,” he said.
“This island has everything that I love – an amazing history, staggeringly beautiful natural wonders, supportive neighbors in the City of Rockingham, and a dedicated workforce.”
Captain Morthorpe said since the island broke away from the mainland approximately 6000 years ago, it remained uninhabited until Captain Stirling established a settlement at Cliff Head.
“As such, it’s an amazing ark sitting off the coast of Western Australia with many unique species of flora and fauna,” he said.
Captain Morthorpe also referred to the island’s significance to the local Indigenous people of the area, the Nyungar People.
“Garden Island features strongly in Aboriginal mythology, with the most significant Dreaming stories being associated with the Crocodile and Waugul Dreaming,” he said.
“What we now call Garden Island was known as Meandip Yondock, meaning ‘Crocodile with Tail Missing’ – the crocodile is the island, and the missing tail is the northern part of the island with the exposed cliffs representing the wounds suffered by the crocodile in its battle with the Rainbow Serpent.”
Following Captain Morthorpe’s address, Chief Petty Officer Naval Police Coxswain Bill Prince, a member of the HMAS Stirling Commissioning Guard in 1978, spoke about his association with the base.
“Before Stirling was commissioned I was posted to HMAS Leeuwin as a young Able Seaman Quarter Master Gunner, but spent 14 months at the Western Australian Naval Support Facility which later became HMAS Stirling,” he said.
“In those days only a small number of the buildings we have now were constructed, and there was still an old general shop from the days the island was used as a holiday destination.
“On the day of the commissioning, Stirling had a ship’s company of 15 officers, two warrant officers, 13 chief petty officers, 18 petty officers, 32 leading seamen and 73 able seamen.”
A few days after Stirling was commissioned, Chief Petty Officer Prince joined the former survey vessel HMAS Moresby, one of the first Navy ships to be posted to what was to become Fleet Base West.
After the formal component of the birthday event, attendees were invited to a winter buffet lunch, followed by the ceremonial cutting of the 190th birthday cake.
Guests were then treated to a Navy-style ‘horse race’ organized by Stirling’s physical training instructors, representing the very first horse race to take place in Western Australia which occurred on the beaches of Garden Island 190 years ago.