HMAS Australia mutiny

Date from 01 June 1919
Date to 01 June 1919
Place Fremantle
Category Mutiny

The incident known as the HMAS Australia mutiny occurred on that ship in Fremantle harbour on 1 June 1919. Australia had arrived in Fremantle on 28 May 1919 and after almost four years overseas her crew were expecting several day's leave in their first home port of call. This was not to be. When Australia began to make preparations to sail on the morning of 1 June, to comply with a busy schedule of "welcome home" visits, eighty to one hundred of her crew assembled on the quarterdeck requesting that the ship's departure be delayed to allow further leave ashore. After being addressed by the captain, Captain Claude Cumberlege, the group dispersed. Subsequently, however, all of the duty stokers abandoned their posts in Australia's boiler room, leaving the ship unable to raise sufficient steam to sail. Australia's petty officers were ordered to the boiler room to stoke the ship, and she eventually left port only one hour late.

Although ostensibly the result of crew frustration over shore leave, the mutiny had much deeper causes. Australia's crew had seen little action during the war and duty aboard had been monotonous; there had been several misunderstandings relating to pay and enlistment conditions; leave in Britain had been severely limited; an ongoing rivalry prevailed between the Australian and British members of the crew; and discipline was perceived as being unduly harsh, particularly after the end of hostilities. Australia was not a happy ship.

Thirty-two men were eventually tried for the mutiny. Twenty-seven were dealt with by Australia's captain and confined to cells for 90 days. The remaining five appeared before a court martial in Sydney on 20 June 1919. All pleaded guilty, but appealed for leniency, and were imprisoned for periods ranging from one to two years. After a public outcry, all five were released in December 1919 at the instigation of the Australian government.

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