Navy’s largest base turns 75

Nowra locals and dignitaries recently gathered to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the commissioning of the Navy’s only air station and largest operational base, HMAS Albatross.

CAPTIONCommanding Officer HMAS Albatross, Captain Scott Palmer and the youngest sailor aboard, Able Seaman Casey Merriman slice a birthday cake during 75th anniversary celebrations for HMAS Albatross. Story by Sub Lieutenant Jaclyn Bollock. Photos by Petty Officer Peter Thompson.

The decision to build an airfield on the site was made soon after the beginning of WW2, and it originally opened as a RAAF base on May 7, 1942.

In October 1944, the base was transferred to the Royal Navy, renamed HMS Nabbington and supported the British Pacific Fleet until March 1946.

In July 1947, the formation of the RAN Fleet Air Arm was sanctioned. On August 31, 1948, Albatross was commissioned.

Home to the Fleet Air Arm and more than 20 resident units, Albatross supports members from all three services, the Australian Public Service and several Defence contractors and commercial entities.

Commander Support Force Commodore Heath Robertson with Commanding Officer Albatross Captain Scott Palmer, Member for Gilmore Fiona Philips, local Aboriginal Elders and past and present Albatross personnel gathered at the Fleet Air Arm Museum to celebrate the milestone.

Former Commanding Officer Commodore Grant Ferguson attended the event and said his connection to the base goes back to the beginning, through his father, Chief Petty Officer Ian Ferguson.

“Dad was a member of Naval Airmans’ Course 1, having answered the call to serve when the decision was made in mid-1947 to establish an Australian Fleet Air Arm,” Commodore Ferguson said.

“He was a member of Carrier Air Group 20, which embarked in newly commissioned HMAS Sydney to transfer squadrons of Sea Fury and Firefly aircraft from England to Albatross.

“I grew up here and started school at Nowra Hill Primary.

“This place is in my blood. I sincerely thank Captain Palmer for inviting me to be here today to mark such a significant milestone in Albatross’ history.”

The anniversary celebrations kicked off with a smoking ceremony performed by Luke McLeod, a Wandi-Wandandian man of the Yuin nation.

This was followed by speeches from Commodore Robertson, Mrs Philips and Captain Palmer.

The highlight was undoubtedly the flypast of a formation of EC-135 and MH-60R Seahawks. Guests then enjoyed morning tea and a cake cutting ceremony, where Captain Palmer was joined by Able Seaman Casey Merriman.

Able Seaman Merriman joined the Navy from Queensland’s Gold Coast in 2022, and works in the Albatross Personnel Office, providing administration support to more than 13 of the resident units.

He said he enjoyed the close community and location of Albatross.

“I love spending weekends driving to visit the various picturesque sites that the Shoalhaven has to offer, from the Colymea State Conservation Area to the Jervis Bay National Park, and all of the encompassing beaches,” Able Seaman Merriman said.

Albatross’s role hasn’t changed much since commissioning.

It continues to support the Fleet Air Arm through its own growth and challenges to meet the various operational requirements.

Captain Palmer said commanding the base was more about relationships than giving orders.

Albatross as a concept is hard to get your head around,” he said.

“I’ve been in and out of this place numerous times over my 30-year career and it’s only been in the last eight months that I’ve come to truly appreciate all of the work that the small Albatross command team does every day to keep all of the resident units working smoothly.”

CAPTIONSailors, officers and guests from the Nowra community watch as a formation of RAN helicopters fly over HMAS Albatross, part of celebrations for the 75th anniversary of HMAS Albatross.


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