Up Top - Australian Sailors In The Far East
Sailing For Up Top
This is a warts and all look at the activities of young sailors during the RAN's Far East Deployments, from the Vietnam Era - through to the mid eighties. As seen through my eyes.
This is not a Travel Guide!! Watch the 'Discovery Channel' if that's what you are after!! Some may like the memories - others who have obtained a certain amount of respectability in the meantime may not.
However, like it or not, this was the way it was”.
Click on each the images below to take 'Jacks' tour.
An Australian Sailor's term for a Ship's Deployment to the Far East and South East Asia. What our USN cousins call a 'WESTPAC Cruise. For decades it was part of an Aussie Matelot's lot. Being in the R.A.N meant 'Going Up Top' whether you liked it or not! These deployments which commenced soon after the end of WW11 with the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces have basically continued to this day.
RAN Ships have traveled under different charters for different organizations for 6 decades. United Nations, SEATO, ANZUK, ANZUS, ASEAN, Far East Strategic Reserve and the Five Nation Agreement just to name a few. It never made alot of difference to the men serving in these often cramped, sweaty, cockroach infested destroyers. The only factors considered to be of any importance were "For how Long will we be away?" and "What ports are we going to?".
Originally deployments were made by a pair of warships and lasted for a period of 18 months. These were decreased to 9 months by the mid 60's, then to 7 months and one ship, and by the early 80's were down to perhaps only 3½ - 5 months. Ports visited varied on the political situation for the region at the time. Regular old favourites included Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Philippines, Japan, Thailand, and Indonesia. Taiwan was never visited again after the December 1972 Whitlam Election and the end of Australia's involvement in Vietnam. South Korea was visited by Derwent in 1968 and not visited again until 1983 by Stalwart, of all ship's. During the 60's and 70's it would have been unthinkable for the RAN to visit China, however since the early eighties there have been many visits. The RAN has now even visited Vietnam. So as political situations changed, so did our deployments.
Many civilians used to ask me why the navy continued to visit these places over and over for no apparent reason. Let me explain from a sailors point of view. Considering some of the strange and out of the way ports we visited, absolutely lacking in any motive for a visit by an Australian Warship, I reckon the Department of Foreign Affairs must have done most of the choosing. On the other hand though, some of these 'out of the way' Port Visits could be very, very successful. The Navy also had it's regulars for fuel, maintenance and combined exercises with allied navies, plus there was the sailors rest and recreation to consider. The latter being my preferred option. Fortunately enough many ports 'Up Top' used to provide the whole package.
I must mention that we were expected to be ambassadors for our country and in that capacity many programs were carried out by the ships companies of the numerous visiting warships. Since most of the countries visited were at that time, and some still are, 'third world', ships would send working parties of tradesmen and seamen ashore to repair a local schools or orphanages etc or assist in disaster relief activities. One common event was to host groups of disadvantaged children aboard for a tour of the ship and lunch. Sailors would dress as pirates and entertain the children handing out 'mackas' (sweets) and generally terrifying the devil out of them. We all hated 'Ship Open To Visitors' and having thousands of foreign and nautically ignorant civilians stampeding through our home. But somehow all was forgiven when the usual high praise at our ship's appearance was all too often heaped upon us. We used to whinge like buggery but we were extremely 'house proud'.
Sporting activities were an important part of navy life 'Up Top' and every port visited generally produced a very busy sports program. Just about all sports were covered by a destroyer's ships company and if one came up they didn't know they would soon choose a few 'volunteers' to compete anyway. The RAN produced alot of excellent athletes and always gave a good account of themselves no matter how professional and well established the opposition was. Which was often!
There are indeed so many topics I could cover about 'Going Up Top' but it is not my wish here to dwell upon anything serious. These pages are about our R&R ports and visits, the bars we frequented, the merchants that 'saw us off' and the girls we all knew and loved. I first 'crossed the line' and went 'Up Top' in March 1970. Celebrating my 17th Birthday in Sembawang Village, Singapore later that year, my 21st at Utapao Air Base in Sth Eastern Thailand in 1974, married in a Buddhist ceremony in Bangkok in 1985, and all the others in between, I sailed 'Up Top' in DEs, Darings and DDGs, I also flew in 707s, 747s and DC10s and one could not help but feel privileged to have spent his youth travelling around an emerging Asia with such a great mob of blokes and meeting alot of good people. So as well as this is for me before the excesses of my youth rob me of my memory as this is for you.
I intend to just 'wing' this section (what else is new?) and write from the top of my head relying on memory only, if I make any blues feel free to correct me. Also if you have some good photos of well known 'Up Top' Institutions please send them in.
These pages are a candid expose on our daily life at sea and ashore whilst serving in the Far East. I must stress that the Asian nations were only just emerging and building their own identities during this period and nothing remains the same today. Asia has changed significantly, along with the navy and its personnel. All information contained herein is as correct and true as I remember it to be. Some names may be changed for the sake of decency and privacy. I would just like to bring a smile back to a few faces as we remember those crazy, halcyon, bloody days "UP TOP!". Now go back to the top menu and select a page to view!
Main Title Image - HMAS Derwent Alongside HMAS Tamar, Hong Kong. 1970s. Thanks to "Frapper' Lehman,