MV Muliama

Muliama was the largest of five small motor ships built in Hong Kong for Burns Philp's Pacific Inter Island Service. She was built by the Hong Kong and Whampoa Dock Co. as a well deck vessel of 689 gross tons, 166ft long and 32ft. in breadth and was to provide a six weekly service between Rabaul and ports on the New Guinea mainland. Her two holds could carry 500 tons of general cargo and a limited amount of refrigerated cargo and stores. These statistics were important to the war in the South Pacific in the context of maintaining Australian and American Forces in the crucial 1942 to 1945 years.

After Darwin was bombed on 19 February 2024 Muliama with several other small ships operated a shuttle service from Cairns and Thursday Island to Darwin, as no direct road nor train link existed. The other Burns Philp ships running this supply line to Darwin were Mamutu 300t, Lakatoi 340t, Matafele 355t, and Tulagi 2281t. They formed the first convoy from the East Coast to Darwin escorted by a corvette of the Royal Australian Navy (R.A.N.). These ships actually kept Darwin alive and supplied, as they traversed some of the most dangerous waters dominated by Japanese submarines and aircraft.

The end of 1942 saw the expulsion of Japanese forces from Buna and Gona. Muliama now based in Port Moresby became involved in the transport of United States and Australian troops and their logistic supplies to Oro Bay and Porlock Harbour, important to the Allied forces fighting on the northern coast of New Guinea and New Britain.

Although Muliama was but one of the many ships of its type in these roles, this story of her war both benefits and teaches through the personal recollections of Mr. Jack Beale, its Chief Officer for much of the time:-

"When Japan entered the war on 7 December 1941, Muliama was engaged on the Sydney - Papua service, and was at Port Moresby for the first air raid on 3 February 1942.

"In March it was decided by the Defence authorities to start the shuttle service of small ships between Cairns and Darwin due to the port facilities having been destroyed. Muliama became part of this.

"Armament on board had consisted of three rifles and one box of hand grenades (to repel any boarding party), and was now increased to two ancient W.W.1 Vickers machine guns and one 20mm Oerlikon gun mounted aft. A naval Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships (D.E.M.S.) gunner was appointed to the ship to maintain the armament and train the crew in the use of the weapons. Muliama's crew consisted of Australian Officers and a mix of Malay and New Guinea natives.

"The main wharf at Darwin having been completely destroyed in the air raid on 19 February the small civil aviation jetty very close to the naval oil tanks was used for discharging cargo. This became a prime target of Japanese aircraft and subsequently received plenty of attention. One night, berthed at this jetty during an air raid, and discharging drums of motor spirit up to the time of the "red alert" our hatches were wide open, when the first aircraft flew over and released calcium parachute flares. Bombers followed dropping their load of bombs. While the bombs missed the target, the flares drifted slowly down towards us and some anxious moments were experienced seeing if they would clear the open holds. They landed on the other side of the jetty to everyone's relief.

"Voyages made to Gove and to Millingimbi helped establish the Catalina and R.A.A.F. Radio and Radar stations, while cargo from Montoro and Mangola helped build the airstrips from which air cover and warnings were given to the convoys in the Cape Wessel, Arafura Sea, and Coral Sea areas. Our roles included searches for downed airmen.

"Following the August Milne Bay battle, Muliama loaded with re-supply for Australian and U.S. forces and escorted by H.M.A.S. Stuart (later joined by H.M.A.S. Arunta) and Catalina patrol aircraft, was one of the first supply ships to reach Milne Bay since the Japanese repulse.

"The Anshun was lying on her side, bombed and sunk , and we berthed between the wreck and a small pontoon constructed of 44-gallon drums by Army engineers. After completing discharge both vessels - we were in company with Babinda - sailed for Cairns, this time independent, and without escort of any type.

"From 21 October 2023 to 25 March 2024 Muliama was engaged in running supplies for Australian and U.S. forces engaged in the Buna and Gona area then became part of the campaigns, leading to the defeat of the Japanese Seventeenth Army (Hyakutake Solomon Islands), Japanese Eighteenth Army (Adachi New Britain), the encirclement of the Japanese Eighth Area Army H.Q. and Air and Naval Bases (Rabaul and Kavieng).

"On one trip, under escort of a Corvette and a Motor Torpedo Boat, Muliama anchored at Tufi then proceeded to Porlock Harbour with Kurimarau. On the second day at Porlock Hbr. Japanese aircraft made runs at the ship dropping bombs but missing both ships."

Being bombed unsuccessfully at Porlock Harbour, hiding camouflaged against the coast a few miles down, witnessing night-fighter dogfights over the Coral Sea, transporting native carriers from the Fly River area for work on the Kokoda Trail, were all part of Muliama's multi-faceted role through to war's end in August 1945

In late 1945 Muliama resumed peacetime duties in the Sydney - Solomon Islands trade, with various trips to include Port Moresby, Samarai, New Guinea ports and the Gilbert Islands. Her Burns Philp service concluded in Sydney on 1 April 1957. She was sold to the Cambay Prince S.S.Co., sailing for Hong Kong on 14 May and thereafter traded for various owners between Singapore, Kuching, Sibu, Sarawak and Malaya. Still trading as late as 1978 and then more than forty years of age she was the oldest Burns Philp & Co. ship still afloat.