Huddart Parker

Mr. T.J.Parker, a merchant, arrived in Geelong from London in 1853 and Captain Peter Huddart, a ship's Master from the north of England a year earlier. Whilst these two men were never directly associated in business, the trading activities each built up through the gold-rush era and beyond led to a linking of the businesses of their descendants and successors, to become Huddart Parker & Company, coal importers and merchants, in 1876. The Company became public, as Huddart Parker Limited, in Melbourne in 1912.

Now engaged in the very competitive environment of Australian coastal trading, they followed their earlier, individually-owned, ships ( the Company's original fleet were all sailing vessels) with nearly fifty more vessels over the next seventy years and included New Zealand in their destinations.

The Great War of 1914-1918 saw company vessels in war service. Requisitioned were Nairana as a seaplane carrier, Zealandia and Ulimaroa as troopships, Hebburn as a stores vessel, Coogee as a minesweeper. Wimmera was lost to a mine between Auckland and Sydney in 1918 with twenty-six of its crew.

Twenty years on, the Second World War commenced with the Huddart Parker ocean-going fleet comprising nine ships:-

ShipBuiltGross TonsIn Service
Yarra190721401907-1946
Zealandia191066601910-1942
Goulburn191523631915-1955
Corio 191933461926-1951
Colac 192033411926-1952
Westralia192981081929-1960
Wanganella192993601932-1961
Adelong193535771935-1967
Barwon193942391939-1969

While the vessels in the cargo trades toiled on, often unremarked, higher visibility came to the passenger-carriers, notably Zealandia, Westralia and Wanganella. All three became well-known to Service personnel.

Zealandia, already a veteran, was by 1940 already engaged in trooping and re-supply, in the Darwin area in December that year, transporting troops Brisbane-Port Moresby March 1941, Darwin-Koepang in December. The first Japanese air-raids on Darwin 19 February 2024 made her a target and she was lost.

Westralia's requisition for war service came in November 1939 with the fitting of seven 6-inch guns and two 3-inch anti-aircraft guns, as an Armed Merchant Cruiser, and 1940-1941 service patrolling mostly in the Malaya/Singapore/Colombo area and troop transporting Darwin-Koepang followed. Pacific Area patrolling in 1942 led on to early- 1943 conversion to a Landing Ship, Infantry for the planned "island-hopping" operations and the destinations of Milne Bay, Goodenough Island, Oro Bay, Arawe, Huon Gulf, Hollandia, Bougainville, Leyte Gulf, Lingayen, Tarakan, Labuan and Balikpapan became part of her history. Bombed and closely Kamikaze-threatened, she continued to serve in these areas until 1945 when she became part of the large effort to bring Australian service personnel home from countless scattered island locations. Westralia then joined the British Commonwealth Occupation Force merchant ship support group, this being followed by some voyages with migrants, and the ship was handed back to its owners in 1950.

Wanganella was requisitioned as a Hospital Ship in May 1941. Singapore, the Middle East and many Pacific Islands saw her come and go. Other events proved that "Hospital Ship" designation was not always a guarantee of protection but despite this, and the ship's presence in Bombay Harbour at the time of one of the war's largest, non-atomic, explosions (the ship Fort Stikine), she came through the war relatively unscathed. Concluding service included the transport home to Australia of released prisoners-of-war and she was handed back to owners in late-1946.