Answering the Call
Gusty winds of around 90 kph on previous days had whipped off the covers to give a premature glimpse of the Answering the Call sculpture which commemorates the Navy’s association with Port Melbourne going back to 1859.
The Navy is back in Port.
Projects such as this have a long gestation and call on patience and dogged perseverance. As early as 1997, Don Boyle and Elizabeth Bentley-Stevens of the Naval Historical Society introduced the idea for a memorial to the Navy in Port to the PMHPS. The Foundation carried on the effort from 2008, the year of the commemoration of the Great White Fleet.
The final realisation of Answering the Call in Port Melbourne owes much to the vision and sustained perseverance of Lieutenant Commander Mackenzie Gregory. Mac ‘wove his silver thread’ to generate wide support and commitment for the project.
Mac entered the Navy as a cadet at the age of 13, one of only 12 accepted each year. He did his medical at the Naval Drill Hall in Bay St in 1935. He was discharged from the Navy at HMAS Lonsdale after distinguished war service in 1954.
He could not believe there was absolutely no reference or marker to the long association of the Navy with Port Melbourne. He set out to redress the lack.
The Naval Drill Hall was one of the first major buildings constructed for the newly formed Royal Australian Navy in 1912.
The HMAS Lonsdale shore establishment was built in 1942 on the former Sandridge Lagoon to cope with the increased demand for recruits and services. The Navy went from 4,400 to 30,000 personnel over the course of the war. Victorian sailors began their training at the Flinders Depot, now HMAS Cerberus, and then transited through HMAS Lonsdale. They carried PM in front of their official number which signified Port Melbourne and reflected where they had joined the Navy to go to war at sea.
HMAS Lonsdale was de-commissioned in 1992.
About the statue
The statue commemorates the service of navy men, women and nurses, as well as the merchant navy which supported the war with fuel, food and ammunition.
219 officers and 1,951 sailors died during World War 2, where they lie with their ships.
The sailor wears the uniform of the Navy as at 1939 to 1945.
The sculptor is Louis Laumen.
The sailor looks towards the Heads to whatever may lie beyond – his expression poignant but full of hope.
This account draws on the speeches given at the unveiling ceremony.
Mackenzie J Gregory 9 February 1922 – 27 August 2014
Ahoy – Mac’s weblog – 2880 articles on Australian naval history
The Navy in Port Melbourne – a self guided walking tour