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HMAS Whyalla and The Mt Laura Homestead Museum.

Road Trip Day 12: 3rd June 2007

In 1978 my Dad took me along to see the last of the large Carrier ships built at the BHP shipyards being launched. Two more smaller vessels were launched that year but 'The Iron Curtis' was the ship that signaled the end of production and closure of the shipyards.

The HMS Whyalla was the first ship built at the shipyards. Completed back in 1941 (almost a year in the making), it was one of several warships built for the Navy as part of the war effort. Back when Whyalla was simply known as 'SMC 47' to protect it from strategic attack by the Japanese.

As part of our trip to the Whyalla Maritime museum Rose and I went on a guided tour of 'The Whyalla' (formerly the HMS Whyalla), which proudly sits landlocked two kilometres away from the Shipyards where it was built, as centre piece of a very interesting history.

The Whyalla has been lovingly restored back to its former glory days as a mine sweeper and escort corvette after spending a number of years renamed as the 'RIP' working for the Victorian Ports and Harbours. The story of how it was brought back on land is fascinating in its self. The boat was bought by the Whyalla Council for a bargain $5000 and cost somewhere in the vicinity of $500,000 to shift onto land and a further $500,000 to restore. Whilst at the museum you can watch a ten minute video detailing every stage of the event.

There is a lot of history to learn about The Whyalla but of particular interest to me was the fact that it served a lot of time with the HMAS Gawler, a similar type of vessel that was also built in Whyalla.

Whilst the tour of the Whyalla is detailed and interesting there's much more to see at the Maritime Museum. Our war history is covered with interesting facts like which sea battles occured in our region during World War II (including an attack on Sydney Harbour by a Japanese Submarine - I'd never heard of that).

There is a section dedicated to the BHP Shipyards with information about every ship built there. A section looks at the history of Mathew Flinders and his mapping of the Australian Coastline. You can find out about some of the marine life in Spencer Gulf. Finally the link between the South Australian railways and the Shipyards is explored through one of the largest, working HO model railways you're ever likely to see.

Rose and I easily spent two hours wandering around the ship and the various other exhibits before heading to our next stop, the Mt Laura Homestead Museum.

The Mt Laura Homestead Museum is a community run museum typical of many National Trust Museums. It is a collection of old stuff going back as far as the early days of settlement in Australia. What sets this museum apart is that the collection is so large - covering several buildings and sheds, including a fully restored Historic Cottage.

Collections range from living implements to farm equipment, engines, telecommunications, printing presses, carriages and more. They're even developing and area dedicated to the railways.

A real highlight is a fully operational blacksmiths shed complete with old style forge. Rose and I talked to the blacksmith who not only demonstrated his craft but gave us a couple of his demonstration pieces to take away as souvenirs.

If you want to see a lot of history in one place then the Mt Laura Homestead Museum will not disappoint. You can learn a lot about Whyalla including how it is thought the name 'Whyalla' came about (contrary to what some people think the name is not related to any indigenous tribe or language and is not named after any known European settler).

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