On the moonless night of February 10, 1964, aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne sent a signal to Fleet Headquarters in Sydney, which read only ‘Voyager is sunk’.
The ship had collided with Daring-class destroyer HMAS Voyager and sliced it in half during a training exercise, 20 nautical miles from Jervis Bay, NSW.
Almost six decades later, the Voyager Mess at HMAS Creswell aims to ensure Navy’s worst peacetime disaster is remembered.
It is the first time in Navy’s history a warrant officer and senior sailor mess had been named.
Previously the only naval messes to bear names were a combined warrant officer and senior sailor mess and wardroom.
Warrant Officer Andrew Jocumsen, who proposed the name change when he was mess president, said it was due to Creswell’s relationship with Voyager survivors.
“Many survivors were bought to Creswell because it was the closest Navy base, so a lot of them hold this place dear in their heart,” he said.
A commemorative plaque was unveiled at the mess by Brian Hopkins, a Voyager survivor and president of the Voyager Survivors Association, on February 9.
Mr Hopkins said he and other survivors were chuffed Voyager’s name and story would live on.
“For me and my shipmates, we felt it was like a shot in the arm, that the Navy would honour Voyager in that way,” he said.
“It’s not only recognition of Voyager but also a salute to the rescue teams, a lot of which were organised out of Creswell.”
The name change followed renovations to the mess, completed in 2021 as part of the Navy Capital Works Program.
While the outside was untouched due to the building’s heritage listing, its interior was renovated to include a new bar, lounge, dining and outdoor entertainment area.
“Everyone walks in, looks around and says this is one of the best messes in Australia, and I agree,” Warrant Officer Jocumsen said.
“The outside of the building is over 100 years old, but inside it’s a fantastic, modern, fit-for-purpose facility.”
After the ceremony, Voyager survivors and their families were welcomed for the annual survivors mess dinner.
“We lost 81 uniforms and one civilian that night, but we have lost more than that number since, around 86, bearing in mind the youngest survivor is around 76 years old,” Mr Hopkins said.
Warrant Officer Jocumsen said plans were in place to centralise all memorabilia related to Voyager at the mess and make it a single repository.
The collection includes the original signal sent by Melbourne during the incident and will be displayed alongside other items for next year’s 60th anniversary.