Strong ties between HMAS Choules and the Victorian town of Mallacoota, forged during the 2019 bushfire crisis, have been recognised with the announcement that the town is now HMAS Choules’ ceremonial homeport.
CAPTION: HMAS Choules Commanding Officer Commander Ben Reilly, members of his crew and their ship at Mallacoota to announce that the Victorian town was the ship’s new ceremonial homeport. Photo by Leading Seaman Leo Baumgartner.
During Operation Bushfire Assist 2019/20, HMAS Choules conducted the largest domestic maritime evacuation, with residents and holiday makers transported from Mallacoota to Hastings in Victoria.
Minister for Defence Personnel Darren Chester said Mallacoota was one of the hardest-hit areas during the bushfires with images of the devastation circulating around the world, and it was our Navy personnel from the Choules who helped hundreds of locals and visitors in their time of need.
“This announcement today, held on the shores where the evacuation took place, is significant for the people of Mallacoota and for the crew of the Choules, and represents an important symbol of the bushfires,” Mr Chester said.
“The ceremonial homeport is a significant connection for any Navy ship, bonding the ship and crew to a community for the life of service, and ensuring the friendships developed during a time of devastation continue.”
The Mallacoota community dedicated a plaque to the Australian Defence Force and Emergency Services once the crisis passed, and the town and the ship have worked together to establish the ceremonial homeport relationship.
Mr Chester said Choules successfully evacuated 1305 people, 162 dogs, three cats, one rabbit and one parakeet from Mallacoota via sea during two evacuations.
“The ship also delivered fuel, medical supplies and food to the Mallacoota community and became a pivotal part of the lifesaving operations conducted by the joint emergency services during that time,” Mr Chester said.
“It is significant that there are still personnel serving in Choules who were part of those operations and are honoured to see this relationship officially established.”
HMAS Choules provided a background to the announcement ceremony, with the crew watching on from sea, while Minister Chester was joined by the then-Commanding Officer of Choules Captain Scott Houlihan, Mayor Mendie Urie and other dignitaries ashore.
The crew intend to return to Mallacoota in November to meet the community face-to-face once again.
As part of the evacuation from Mallacoota, HMAS Choules was joined by MV Sycamore, which rescued 58 people, two dogs, a cat and a rabbit.