June 22, 2021 – The Captain Cook Graving Dock at Sydney’s Garden Island, built during World War II, has been recognized as a National Engineering Landmark by Engineers Australia.
The first ship to use the 347m dry dock was the 225m aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious and the latest is the 230m landing helicopter dock HMAS Adelaide.
President of the Sydney Division of Engineers Australia Jessica Qiu and Director General Maritime Support Branch Commodore Shane Glassock on June 17 unveiled a plaque at the historic site to mark its new status as an engineering landmark.
Ms Qiu said the dock took four years to complete and at the time was Australia’s largest engineering project.
“It’s important that we recognize the people who built this landmark and how it contributed to our community,” Ms Qiu said.
Construction activity peaked in 1943 with more than 4000 men employed on the project.
Commodore Glassock said the graving dock was a product of “incredible foresight” and remained a national strategic asset.
“It continues to support maritime sustainment through the ability to dry dock our largest Royal Australian Navy ships, foreign navy ships and regional commercial vessels,” Commodore Glassock said.
“While the design and construction of the dock have very much stood the test of time, planning is now underway to ensure this critical asset remains available and operational in the decades ahead.”
Resembling a giant bath tub, the dry dock is the last remaining facility in Australia capable of docking ships that have a displacement of more than 12,000 tonnes, and its importance is highlighted in the 2020 Force Structure Plan.
After a ship enters the dock, a watertight floating barrier called a caisson is closed, water is pumped out and the ship settles on carefully arranged keel blocks.
Colin Randall, from the Naval Historical Society of Australia, first saw the process as a 13-year-old in 1961 when his father worked in the Dockmaster’s Office as a maintenance engineer.
“This was a wonderful place for a kid,” he recalled.
“My favourite fishing spot was the last bit when they drained the dock. When there were Spanish mackerel, everyone was in there with a bucket.”
Since 1999, the graving dock has been operated and maintained by Above Water Systems, which is part of Thales Australia, on behalf of the Navy, symbolising the close ties Navy has with Defence industry.
Above Water Systems vice president Max Kufner said the company appreciated the responsibility of the role and the trust placed in it.
“The trust shown in us by the Royal Australian Navy has instilled an enormous sense of pride and accomplishment across Thales Australia,” Mr Kufner said.
Commanding Officer HMAS Kuttabul Captain Matthew Shand said a significant ceremony was planned last year when the dock turned 75, but was called off.
“Unfortunately a thing called COVID-19 hit and the world was, almost overnight, turned on its head,” Captain Shand said.
He thanked the historical society president for his efforts to ensure the dock’s many years of service were not forgotten.
“Through David Michael’s sheer persistence, we celebrate the 76th anniversary of the dock and formally recognise what was, and still is, an engineering feat of national proportions,” Captain Shand said.