First published on 19 Sep 2011. Updated on 19 Sep 2011.
“Strength, silence, surprise” is the motto of the Royal Australian Navy’s submarine arm – and the vessel on display at the Australian National Maritime Museum epitomises all these things.
Three ships have carried the moniker HMAS Onslow, the first being a British Destroyer in the early 1900s. It wasn’t that long ago, though, that this particular Onslow was tracking Soviet submarines – it was only decommissioned in 1999, and is still close to operational condition. So listen out for the diving alarm.
What is now the main visitor entrance to the Onslow was once its torpedo loading hatch – so, unless you’re shaped like a torpedo, you’ll want to watch your head. (Actually, best you watch your head during your whole visit to the submarine – its imposing, humongous exterior belies its narrow, cramped interior). This first chamber was where the sub’s 22 Mk 48 torpedoes and sub-harpoon missiles were stored. Some unlucky sailors had to bunk with them. These days it’s home to a couple of display models.
Buttons, switches, levers, meters and doohickies await you in the control room. It’s also where you can peer through one of the sub’s two periscopes. You’ll only appreciate the real muscle of the vessel, though, when you get to the engine room and meet the ship’s mighty twin diesel engines (affectionately nicknamed Bonnie and Clyde).
The sailors’ poky living quarters and the similarly tiny galley give you an idea of what life under the sea was really like, though. That escape hatch would have looked pretty tempting – if the sub wasn’t leagues under the surface of the ocean, of course. For one half-hour visit, however, it's well worth it.