Thursday 13 March 2014 by Alison Wishart. No comments
Opinion, views and commentary, Personal Stories, Aussie hero quilters, windmills, giraffes, HMAS Toowoomba

Day 7 - Patrol Boat

Today we spent the afternoon and evening in the Port of Rashid, Dubai, visiting HMAS Toowoomba. This large warship will spend nearly six months at sea. On board were one captain, 190 crew, a giraffe and a special quilt.

The toy giraffe belongs to "Hirsch", one of the Petty Officers. He uses it when he skypes his three daughters at home. However, he can only use skype when they are in port and the bandwidth is big enough to support a video call. Otherwise he relies on emails and the occaisional telephone call. He missed seeing his youngest daughter learn to walk. He will miss his oldest daughter's fifth birthday. Perhaps the giraffe cheers him up too.

Photo by G1
Photo by G1

The quilt is on "Jodes" bunk. A kind quilter, whom she's never met nor spoken to, from Aussie Hero Quilters made it for her. On the front are swatches of wattle surrounded by green and gold fabric and on the back is a print featuring windmills. Jodie loves this quilt because it reminds her of home. While wattle is an Australian floral emblem, it is the windmills that generate memories: they remind her of a road trip she did from Perth to Adelaide just before she started this deployment where she played "spot the windmill" as they drove across the "land of sweeping plains".

Homesickness was a common theme in the two crew members I interviewed. They deal with it by developing daily routines, producing endorphins at the gym (which is about the size of a small garage), working long hours and excelling at their jobs. Jodie works in the communication centre making sure all the ship's communication systems are working all of the time. "Hirsch" manages a team of technicians who repair and maintain the ship's Sea Hawk.

(I can't wait to tell my nephew that I was on a ship that has a helicopter on it!) While they still have traditional titles like "leading seaman" and "petty officer", there is nothing traditional about their roles in the navy.

HMAS Toowoomba has been patrolling the sea lanes in and around the Gulf of Aden, keeping them free of pirates and trying to stop drugs being shipped out of the Middle East. This is one of the objectives of "Operation Slipper", the name of Australia's mission in the MEAO. Giraffes and windmills are an important part of the mission.

Twelve months ago I went to the Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO) with the Australian War Memorial. I was working on an oral history-photographic project. The core part of the project was interviewing and photographing 19 currently serving members of the ADF - from the army, navy and airforce - before, during and after their deployment in 2013 to the MEAO.  In another 12 months time, you should be able to see the results of this work in an exhibition which will travel around Australia.

These blog posts were written while I was in the MEAO but were not uploaded to the AWM website at that time.

I am planning to upload one blog post each day, exactly 12 months on from the actual day I was on deployment. We left Canberra on 12 March 2013.