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December 10, 2009
By LSIS Paul McCallum
CMDR Michael Harris
has a unique affili-
ation with HMAS
Melbourne -- it could
be said that he owes his life and
livelihood to RAN warships that
carry that name.
Having served in Melbourne as
an OOW in 1994, CMDR Harris
has returned to the warship 15
years later as her new CO.
While returning to a previ-
ous ship isn't unusual, the history
CO owes his life to HMAS Melbourne
ARTIST'S IMPRESSION: CMDR Michael Harris commissioned this painting depicting the rescue of his great grand-
parents and his grandfather by HMAS Melbourne in 1922. CMDR Harris' grandfather was just 12 years old when he
Image courtesy CMDR Michael Harris
GOAL ACHIEVED: CMDR Michael Harris has taken command of HMAS
Melbourne -- achieving a life-long goal.
Photo: ABIS Andrew Dakin
"If it wasn't for HMAS
Melbourne I rescuing
the members of Helen
B Stirling, I wouldn't
have been born."
-- CMDR Michael Harris
and the name
M elbourne is
"I joined the
Navy to be the
CO of a major
fleet unit and ever
since the FFG Melbourne was
built, I hoped that I would com-
mand her," CMDR Harris said.
"Since I was awarded my
bridge watching certificate as an
OOW in Melbourne, it firmly
became the ship I set my sights on
There is good reason for
CMDR Harris to be so keen on
the one ship and that reason dates
back to 1922.
In 1922, CMDR Harris' great
grandparents and grandfather,
who was 12, were rescued from the
stricken ship Helen B. Stirling by
HMAS Melbourne I.
"From a very young age I was
aware of the rescue by Melbourne.
My grandfather was increadibly
lucky the ship was able to respond
in the way it did. Of all the mem-
orabilia that my grandfather had
from the rescue, I treasured the
Melbourne tallyband he was given.
"I wrote a short story on the
rescue in primary school and have
always believed that, if it wasn't for
Melbourne rescuing the members
of the Helen B, I
wouldn't have been
hopes to get the
opportunity to have
his father at sea
with him for a night
or two, along with
wife Angela, two children James
and Olivia, and his mother, to show
them what they have helped him
"They are all incredibly proud,
none more so than my father. All
of what I know of the rescue and of
my great grandfather is because of
him," he said.
"I know he wishes that my
grandparents were still alive
to see me assume command of
Rescue in the
middle of the night
IN 1922 HMAS Melbourne (I) was tran-
siting to New Zealand for a good will
visit when she intercepted a distress
call from a stricken schooner, the Helen
B. Stirling, 340km away.
The four-masted sloop had left
Newcastle bound for the Society Islands
and San Francisco when she was struck
by a cyclone off the north coast of NSW.
With main mast smashed and the rigging
torn to shreds, the radio operator man-
aged to send an SOS, despite the ship
taking on water and the sea breaking
over the vessel.
With little knowledge of the sloop's
actual position and with coal fuel near
empty, Melbourne's Commanding Officer
CAPT Henry Feakes responded to the
desperate call for help and sailed into
Melbourne's coal fuel had almost
reached a critical level but, less than
an hour before the ship would have to
abandon the search, a faint radio mes-
sage was received stating "we can see
Violent seas prevented Melbourne
from coming alongside Helen B. Stirling
so the ship was positioned up swell of
the sloop and Melbourne's cutter was
despatched to rescue the stricken crew.
The cutter approached the wallow-
ing sloop but did not proceed alongside
for fear of being battered against the
larger ship. A line was passed to the crew
of Helen B. Stirling and the crew were
hoisted across to the cutter.
Leslie Harris, CMDR Michael Harris'
grandfather, was the 13th person out of
22, plus the ship's cat, who was rescued
from the sloop and transferred to the
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