Wyatt Earp – The little ship with many names

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Wyatt Earp – The little ship with many names. By Trish Burgess. Connor Court Publishing, Brisbane 2020

Reviewed by Rob Garratt, Sea Power Centre- Australia

How did a commissioned RAN vessel come to be named after a famous gunslinger from America’s Wild West? This question, and many others, are answered in: ‘Wyatt Earp – The little ship with many names’ by Trish Burgess.

The book covers the lifespan of this storied vessel, from its beginnings in Norway as the Fanefjord, its service in the RAN, to its decommissioning and eventual demise on a ‘usually calm and sunny’ Queensland beach.

The story is told in entertaining detail, and manages to uncover long forgotten facts and anecdotes which bring the story to life. Of particular interest are the travails of the ship’s owner: famous American explorer Lincoln Ellsworth, and his desire to explore one of the world’s last frontiers; Antarctica.

Wyatt Earp or ‘Twerp’ as the vessel was affectionately known, achieved its fame exploring the Antarctic continent. It is in these sections that the book shines. Drawing upon her personal connection to the ship and her meticulous research skills, the author illustrates the converging interests involved in the numerous expeditions undertaken by the ship and its crew. Newspaper clippings and articles are skilfully inserted to indicate the many ways the ship featured in furthering Australian interests in Antarctica.

The ship’s service in the RAN is well covered, highlighting the many roles the vessel fulfilled, as both HMAS Wongala and HMAS Wyatt Earp. It was employed as a Fleet Auxiliary, an Examination Vessel, a Guard Ship, a Mother Ship to the Naval Auxiliary Patrol and a Sea Scout training ship, before being re-converted for Antarctic exploration.

The ship’s post RAN career and her eventual grounding provide a comprehensive conclusion to the story, which is among the most unique in Australian maritime history.

This book is highly recommended to readers who might enjoy the tale of a spirited ship, and challenges faced and overcome.

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