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Ship History - HMAS Wyatt Earp

Motor Ship Model - HMAS Wyatt Earp

Image: Motor Ship Model - HMAS Wyatt Earp

Source: Museum Victoria

Built as a wooden herring fishing vessel in Norway known as the Fanefjord (402 GRT) in 1919, this ship was purchased and modified by American polar explorer Lincoln Ellsworth for his 1933 Antarctic expedition and renamed the Wyatt Earp after the well-known American lawman of the wild west. Ellsworth used the ship until 1939, when it was purchased by the Australian government for 4,400 Pounds to be used for a proposed 1940 Antarctic voyage, and by the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) which renamed the vessel the fleet auxiliary Wongala. An Aeronca floatplane and a Northrop Delta aircraft on board the vessel were included with the sale. The Aeronca was later donated to the Canberra Aero Club by the Federal Government and the Northrop was used by the Department of Civil Aviation and the RAAF.

After just one voyage from Sydney to Darwin, the vessel was laid up and then commissioned as a port examination vessel, HMAS Wongala in 1940. She was stationed at Adelaide and Whyalla between 1940 and 1944, after which the vessel was used for sea cadet training. In 1947 it was surveyed and found fit for use as an Antarctic research ship. She was renamed HMAS Wyatt Earp under Commander Karl Oom RAN, an experienced naval surveyor and hydrographer. A RAAF Vought Kingfisher floatplane (A48-13) was loaded onto the cargo hatch to be used for ice reconnaissance and survey flights. After delays due to storm damage which required the vessel to return to Melbourne for repairs, Wyatt Earp reached the pack ice off Adelie Land in March 1948 but could not force a way through to the coast of Antarctica. After completing cosmic ray research and surveying work to correct naval charts, she left for Macquarie Island then returned to Melbourne via Hobart. After this voyage the Wyatt Earp was considered unsuitable for future Antarctic exploration work and was sold to the Arga Shipping Company in 1951. Renamed Wongala she was used in the Bass Strait trade between Tasmania and Victoria. In 1956 she was purchased by the Ulverstone Shipping Company and renamed Natone. The vessel ran aground at Mudlow/Mudlo Rocks near Fraser Island in January 1959 and foundered.

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