- Zammitt, Alan
- Biographies and personal histories
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Sydney III
- June 1981 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The Naval Detention Quarters were situated on Garden Island, known to the matelots as ‘The Corner’. Discipline and punishment was hard sixty years ago, much harder than it is today, and this concerned both civilian life and even schools as much as it did the service. Whilst undergoing detention in ‘The Corner’ the sailors had to pull coal carts around Garden Island; quite often they were fed on bread and water only and became very weak. Whenever he could, ‘Jesus’ would slip the inmates a chocolate, or something to eat. When Australia visited Fremantle in January 1946 a chap came aboard the ship and sought out the canteen manager and said to him: ‘Victor, you saved my life. I was going to escape from the Island by swimming to Woolloomooloo but you gave me some food and a cigarette, and talked me out of it.’
Probably the highlight of the period Vie spent in Melbourne and Sydney was in January 1922, when on a cruise to New Zealand, Melbourne succeeded in rescuing the whole crew of the American six masted schooner Helen B. Stirling during one of the worst gales ever known around the coast. Victor was still in Melbourne when the RN Special Service Squadron, consisting of the battle-cruisers Hood and Repulse and five ‘D’ class cruisers visited Australia in April 1924.
Sydney became flagship in September 1924, Victor leaving Melbourne to take over the canteen in Sydney. During 1925 Sydney visited Singapore, departing via Fremantle and returning via Darwin. The chief cook in this period was George Hoffman, whose well known saying was ‘Give them plenty, one each, and cut the big ones in half.’
In July 1926 Joseph Zammit died and the canteen in Sydney was transferred to Victor Zammit.
Victor married Mary Thompson in December 1926, a resident of Garden Island whose father, James Thompson, was a Scot. James Thompson was head foreman on Garden Island from 1913 until 1931.
Since 1914 Victor had always lived aboard ship. He never took long leave and the only time he had not slept aboard Encounter, Melbourne or Sydney was the time when he ran the canteen at Garden Island, and for a short period when he and most of the ship’s company of one of the cruisers were transferred to the quarantine station at North Head during an epidemic. He had a great time at the quarantine station fishing and catching lobsters from the rocks around North Head.
Sydney began her last two major cruises when she sailed from her name port in April 1927 to circumnavigate Australia, calling at Hobart, Melbourne, Adelaide, Albany, Fremantle, Geraldton, Broome, Wyndham and then on to Koepang, arriving in June.
This stopover was followed by a visit to Dili, where the main means of transport were the hardy little Portuguese Timor ponies.
The return trip was via Darwin, Thursday Island, Cairns and Newcastle, arriving back in Sydney in July 1927.
In September 1927 Sydney sailed for Noumea in French New Caledonia, where the sailors stocked up on ‘4711’ perfume. Visits were made to Tulagi, Samari and Percy Island before returning to Sydney.
On 8th November 1926 Vie Zammit left Sydney and joined Melbourne. The broad pennant of Commodore G.F. Hyde was transferred to Melbourne.
On 9th February 1928 Melbourne sailed from Sydney for England by way of Darwin, Singapore, Penang, Colombo, Aden, Suez, Malta and Gibraltar, to carry the crew to commission the new Australia. Melbourne was to be paid off in England, and then be broken up. During the cruise, the broad pennant of Commodore Hyde was changed to a flag on Commodore Hyde being promoted to Rear Admiral.
Between Malta and Portsmouth Melbourne passed the new short funnelled County class cruiser Cumberland, and the Australian ship’s company had a preview of what their new ship would look like.
Australia was still at Clydebank when Melbourne arrived, and before she commissioned a couple of hundred Glasgow women were employed making the ship ‘as clean as a new pin’.
Australia commissioned and sailed for Portsmouth on 24th April 1928, with a steaming party on board, and was to pick up the Melbourne draft on arrival. Captain Goolden, RN, who was to commission Australia, had a pet canary, and before he left for Glasgow to pick up the new ship, he asked Victor’s canteen assistant to look after the bird in Melbourne for him.