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Monday, 8 June 2015
Freedom of the City for HMAS Toowoomba
On Saturday two of our quilters were lucky enough to be in Toowoomba to watch the Freedom of the City March by the crew of HMAS Toowoomba. How lucky are they? Even luckier as they both had recipients who are still on board and so were able to meet up with some of them. Both of them were kind enough to write an account of the day and included some photos! Enjoy!
On Saturday June 6th my husband and I celebrated 28yrs of marriage. This coincided with the HMAS Toowoomba Freedom of Entry march. I was going along to see one of my recipients that I had kept in touch with via email and hopefully one other. His nibs decided that he too would make the journey up to Toowoomba - so we could be together on our Anniversary.
I really didn’t know what to expect – during the week I had heard the Mayor of Toowoomba talking about how honoured he was to be present at this ceremony and he hoped that all of Toowoomba stopped for 10 minutes to thank the crew of HMAS Toowoomba. This got me thinking – Wow this really is a huge experience. How often does this happen so close to us? (we live outside Warwick which is nearly 100kms south of Toowoomba)
So after contacting Irene another Aussie Hero Quilt in the region, his nibs and I left a very dreary cold windy Warwick, scarves and jackets on and set off to the big smoke.
Toowoomba put on a great show, the sun was shining and the wind Toowoomba is so famous for in winter stayed away for the 11am ceremony. We arrived in plenty of time to grab a coffee and walk the three of four blocks to the beginning of the parade for a great viewing of the action. We had strict instructions from Master 10 that we had to get pictures of the Challenge from the Commissioner of QPS to the Commanding officer of HMAS Toowoomba and make sure we get the fight on my phone so he can watch it later! Oh to be 10 years old again.
There was a lot of shouting and sailors running in a lot of directions just before it started. They must have been allowed to walk around but be back by a certain time for the parade. It was funny watching them all run out of the numerous coffee shops in Margaret Street and get ready to march.
It was a moving ceremony that neither of us had ever experienced before. As soon as the Australian Naval Band started playing I was a goner. My heart swelled and I was actually overcome with emotions. When the Commissioner yelled “Halt, who goes there” and the response from Commander Cathy Hayes, it was surreal. This ancient ceremony was actually being played out less than 4 feet away from us. The crew from HMAS Toowoomba looked amazing and smart in their uniforms, officers and sailors alike; the Mayor looked fabulous in the City’s robes and the Queensland Police Service and the Commissioner did Queensland proud.
Once the parade had past us, I quickly said to hubby, hurry up I know a short cut through the centre of town and we can get to the end of the parade before the crew. Poor his nibs (who is still recovering from an earth moving accident last year and suffers from many aliments) was doing his best to keep up with me and the other onlookers as we sprinted to Ruthven Street. As we were moving along we could hear the band playing and the applause from everyone in Ruthven Street and we could hear people saying "Thank You" to the crew, it was surreal.
Once the parade had finished and the Commemorative Certificate of the occasion was handed to the Mayor of Toowoomba, Peter Antonia, it was bedlam. A few of the sailors had family present and the rest of the crew were in a hurry for morning tea at the Empire Theatre cafe. I then had the pleasure of meeting the lovely Kylie, whom I made a quilt and Laundry bag for last year when HMAS Toowoomba was deployed to the Middle East.
Kylie is as lovely in person as she is in her cards, letters and emails. She introduced me to her cabin mate from the ship and one of her friends Kelly. Kylie continued to introduce me to the crew and anyone that stood still long enough. I was known as "one of the amazing ladies that makes our quilts and laundry bags".
Everyone was so happy to meet me and also say thank you for all our effort. They all mentioned the joy that it brought when someone received a parcel and how everyone stood around to look at their quilt or laundry bag. A bit like Christmas Day at home was the overall summary. Tim Tams are currency on the ships and on land. So don’t listen to your 20 year old son that tells you that they are fitness fanatics that wouldn’t eat all the junk that we send over. "Keep it up please" was the response. Tim Tams are Gold and can get you pretty much what you want on the ship. As much as I thanked the crew they thanked us.
While waiting to meet up with a fellow AHQ sewer Irene, I had the pleasure of talking with two of Irene’s recipients and a few of the crew. The lads were the most polite well spoken young men, sailors and Officer that I had the pleasure of meeting. I asked about their roles on the ship, what it felt like after the drug hauls that they achieved (3 in total) and the morale on the ship after. Adrenaline was high after each haul, and a sense of achievement as well. I found out that they work 12 hour days and that everyone does a variety of jobs on board. There is no room for Princesses out at sea.
One Petty Officer asked me how many quilts I had made, I honestly have never counted them all up, but I explained that I have sewn quilts and Laundry bags for HMAS Newcastle, Darwin, Melbourne and Toowoomba, as well as sending them off to Afghanistan, Kabul and where ever else they are needed. The Petty Officer was amazed what one person could do and wanted to know how many amazing people do this.
So Ladies and Gents we are making a difference out there. They all wanted to know why I did this. That was a hard one, but my response was, “I feel that if I can make a difference in someone’s life, that my little contribution of sewing them a quilt or laundry bag and putting a packet of Tim Tams or Columbines, lollies or Red frogs can make them feel special than my job is done.” I feel that this is the least that I can do when some many are leaving loved ones, mates, families and friends at home to serve and defend our waters, our Country and our people. Again the response from them all was one of awe. I am so proud to be part of this great organisation.
The Petty Officer also said that he was going to hang his quilt in pride of place at his house, there was no way he was going to stick it in a cupboard, then one of the other lads said they are too good to use on the ship in case they got ruined. I told them that they were made to be used and brighten up their bunks or cabins. The overall response was “oh no they are too good for that – but we still use our laundry bags and hang them up on the bunks so we can see them everyday”. That was great to hear. Maybe we should be sewing rod pockets into the back of the quilts??
The one sad thing about today was that I was told that quite a lot of the crew only ever received one parcel or one piece of mail for the whole deployment and that was from a AHQ sewer. The difference that this made to those people must be huge. It saddens me to think that there are sailors, soldiers and aircraft personnel that have no correspondence from home for whatever reason.
Thank you HMAS Toowoomba you represented the Australian Navy brilliantly and thanks again for your service - it is very much appreciated.
On a mild cloudless sunny day, Toowoomba residents lined the street throughout the CBD as HMAS Toowoomba’s crew marched as part of the Freedom of Entry ceremony.
The Freedom of Entry parade has its origins in medieval Europe, where citizens lived in walled cities and only granted entry to soldiers as a mark of trust. It is considered a great honour for soldiers. More than 100 Navy personnel marching saw the ship’s company challenged by Queensland Police Commissioner Ian Stewart to determine their ‘right’ to enter the city. After being allowed ‘rights’ to the city they march to Kwong Sang Lane.
I was very honoured to have seen this ceremony as the last one took place in 2006. To all the crew of HMAS Toowoomba THANK YOU for taking part in the ceremony especially during this Anzac Centenary year.
To Phillip and Ashley, two of my quilt recipients ‘THANK YOU’ for taking the time to meet both Cath and myself. You certainly made my day. To my other recipient Gerald who had to stay with the ship in Brisbane, sorry I did not get to met you and for missing the ceremony. I did let the crew know that Aussie Hero’s was thinking of them by flying the AH banner.
To all of HMAS Toowoomba’s crew you have done your ship and the Navy proud. Thank You for visiting our beautiful city and you are most welcome to come and visit Toowoomba the name sake of your ship again in the future. It was an Honour and a Privilege to have made 4 quilts for the crew of HMAS Toowoomba named after our city.
These 4 photos are courtesy of Cath. The two fellows in the photos with me are my recipients and then some more of the crew joined in for the last one. Cath said I was a TART. HA HA. Could not resist a man in uniform.
Sounds like a very special time for both Cath and Irene. How lovely.
Thanks for sharing ladies.
Till next time............please keep spreading the word and happy stitching!