HMAS Nirimba – what’s in a name?
by Ron Robb
This article was first published in NOCN 82, 1 September 2010.)
Originally parts of two land grants made in 1814 and 1816, to Major West and John Pye respectively, the site of Schofields Aerodrome, Quakers Hill, was acquired in 1941 as a satellite field to RAAF Richmond. Air base construction started in 1942 but with the formation of the British Pacific Fleet in November 1944 it was allocated to the Royal Navy (RN) for a MONAB (Mobile Naval Air Base). MONAB III arrived and commisioned the base as HMS Nabthorpe 5 February 1945.
In November 1945 the RN shut down MONAB VI, HMS Nabstock, in Brisbane, and transferred most of its personnel and equipment to Schofields. The name went with it, so Nabthorpe evolved into Nabstock.
A ship’s pennant with the name HMS Nabstock on it is the only known remaining tangible link of these times. The pennant was in the Nirimba Wardroom but is now in the Fleet Air Arm of Australia Museum at Nowra, an air station that coincidentally also had a life as a MONAB.
RAAF Schofields, again
In 1946 the RN vacated the base and as it reverted to the RAAF, it became known, for the second time, as RAAF Schofields. Then, in 1952 the RAN began to move in under an Acting CO, a Commander we quickly got to know as “VAT” Smith. Later there was an XO named Stevens, who achieved some notoriety as the captain of HMAS Voyager.
The establishment was commissioned HMAS Nirimba, RANAS Schofields, 1 April 1953. The plan was to make it a depot repair facility (the birdland equivalent of Garden Island) and jointly an air technical training school. The former never really got off the ground but the training function did, and very well too. Naval Officers Club long-serving committee member Fred Lewis was a “bootlace” Warrant Officer in the Air Electrical School.
The civilian repair lobby (mainly Hawker de Havilland) managed to convince the RAN and the politicians that they could do a better job repairing naval aircraft. On the pretext that H. de H. was a strategic national industry, a political decision was made that it had to be kept alive and they got the job.
On 4 January 1956 RANAS Schofields was decommissioned and on 5 January the Royal Australian Navy Apprentice Training Establishment (RANATE) was commissioned. RANAS had run down to a LCDR as CO but RANATE commissioned under the legendary CAPT F.L. George. The name Nirimba was similarly decommissioned on 4 January, but recommissioned the next day.
The business of the RN naming its MONABs is a story in itself and the naming of Nirimba by the RAN was sometimes a story of high farce. Together with all the relevant Navy Office and other documents it was so convoluted that it deserved a separate annex in my book, The Flight of the Pelican. The ship’s crest also underwent three metamorphoses and the one that is still on the University of Western Sydney’s Administration block is actually the fourth version.
Nirimba finally decommissioned on 25 February 1994, having trained some 13,000 young men and women from the RAN and other Commonwealth navies.
Robb, R.K. Flight of the Pelican. ISBN: 0959194223. 1993.