WORDS BY LARINE STATHAM. PHOTOGRAPHY BY TRACY OLIVE
On 14 November 2013 a stubborn Bundaberg cane farmer stood on the floor of the Australian Parliament and delivered his maiden speech, stating his bold plan to establish a world-class military dive site in his region.
Set on helping grow the local tourism industry, the newly-elected Member for Hinkler, Keith Pitt could not possibly have known just how complex a task it would be. Even when people dismissed his idea, the electrical engineer, former surf lifesaver and married father-of-three remained undeterred.
As well as needing to convince his own Government to donate a decommissioned Navy vessel and resources, the project required support from both the Bundaberg and Fraser Coast regional councils. The Queensland Government would need to take carriage of the vessel and prepare it for scuttling in State waters.
With his sights firmly set on Landing Ship Heavy (LSH) HMAS Tobruk, which was yet to be decommissioned, Mr Pitt established a Regional Dive Wreck Advisory Group and tabled petitions in Parliament. His campaign brought the Region together and defied partisan party politics.
After 34-years of service, in 2015 the “Faithful and Strong” HMAS-Tobruk was decommissioned and transported to
the Port of Bundaberg, where it opened for public tours that attracted visitors from around the world. The Queensland Government carried out extensive safety, engineering and environmental work on the former cargo ship before it was scuttled in 28.5 metres of water, some 32 km off the coast between Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. In late February 2019 Queensland’s newest dive site was declared safe and opened for diving.
Soft corals wasted no time propagating the wreck. Schools of bait, pelagic and reef fish species have populated the ship. Several grouper and four turtles have set up residence in the wreck, including a green turtle that locals call “Crush”. Divers like Tracy Olive have sighted lionfish, banded shrimp, octopus and sea snakes.
Offering calm, protected waters and dive depths of between 11 metres and 30 metres, the Tobruk Military Dive Wreck is suited to open water divers of all experience levels. Whether you swim through or around this impressive 127 metre long vessel, its important history, countless points of interest and ever evolving eco-system mean you’ll discover something new every time you descend on Tobruk.
Hundreds of people have already dived the wreck, which is expected to generate more than $1 million for the local economy each year. It seems Mr Pitt was right: “Defence assets paid for by the Australian people can, and should, continue to serve the community long after they are no longer of use to the military”.