Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The day New Zealand bombarded Australia

It was the afternoon of Friday, 4 March 1955, when Mrs. S. Elliott, wife of the postmaster at Currarong, on the New South Wales coast, noticed that the post office was under attack.
“Those were not just splinters that fell here. They were honest-to-goodness shells. They exploded with terrific bangs – every one of them. It was about 4 o’clock when I heard the first one. It went off with a terrific crash, and bits of metal started falling all over the place. There were two more and everyone came running into the post office shouting for me to call the Navy.

“I called the naval station and ran out to see the last shell crash down near a boat with two fishermen in it about 100 yards off the beach, right in front of us. It sent up a terrific shower of water – a great mushroom of it – and nearly sank the boat.

“The fishermen came into the post office later and said that bits of shrapnel had whistled all around them after the shell exploded. It’s all right now that it’s over. But somebody could have been seriously hurt.”
(Auckland Star, 8 March 1955)

The culprit? The Kiwi cruiser, HMNZS Black Prince, on manoeuvres at the time with the Australian Navy. I've spoken to an ex-sailor from the Black Prince at that time, and it appears that the guns failed to lock onto the intended target properly as the ship sailed along the coast – instead of a bombardment aimed at an area nearby used for gunnery practice, the township copped the fire. The only official damage reported at the time was a splinter which went through a roof.

Mrs. Dorothy Bromley, wife of a garage and cafĂ© owner in the township, said, “Splinters, my eye. They were fair dinkum shells … I dropped everything. I thought the end had come.”

It was said at the time that it was an accident. For some reason (rather ominously perhaps) the acting NZ Prime Minister Keith Holyoake kept denying that it was accidental at all. “There was no question of even accidental bombardment of the town by the New Zealand cruiser Black Prince,” he is reported as stating. (Star, 8 March 1955)

The last I’ll add to this (for now, pending more info), comes from here:

“HMNZS Black Prince accidentally bombards the post office at Currarong, near Jervis Bay NSW. It is not known what offensive capacity the post office had or what level of threat it posed to our vessel.”


  1. A pity, really, that they scrapped the ship in 1962. Otherwise, we could have said, "Oi, you lot -- any nonsense, and we'll send the Black Prince back round! Next time, we won't just aim for the small seaside post office!" ;)

  2. Gunnery Officer was later decorated with"The Order of the White Cane"!

  3. That is still a topic of conversation when you go there (or the nearby Jervis Bay). The locals swear an outdoor dunny was the only casualty.

  4. The guns were being controlled by Australian observers, they were told three times that were giving bad data but they insisted. So...

    My father was sig on Black Prince.

  5. I was nine years old & living at Currarong at the time. The highlight for me was when the officer in charge Of HMAS Albatross & the Captain of the Black Prince landed in a Helicopter at an intersection at the top of Currarong & publicly apologised to The Currarong people. I along with others were there & watched it happen.

  6. page 171-174 of Gerry Wright book HMNZS Black Prince 1946-1959 gives a very detailed account of this incident and is worth a read if you can get a copy.