HMAS Cairns – Shore Establishment Cairns was commissioned in Grafton Street, on 1 February 1974 – a far cry from today’s base.
The Royal Australian Navy has been a regular visitor to Cairns for many decades stretching well back before World War II. Many ships, both military and merchant, made Cairns their principal port of call when traveling up the east coast of Australia during World War II for resupply and refit prior to heading to New Guinea, Java, the Solomon Islands, and many other destinations throughout the Pacific.
A permanent Navy presence in Cairns did not begin, however, until the new Patrol Boat Facility opened up at Grafton Street on 29 January 1971, under the Command of Lieutenant HP Shaw RAN. Starting with a complement of only one officer and 15 sailors, the facility was to provide general repair and maintenance facilities for the newly formed Second Australian Patrol Boat Squadron. From mid-1971 the first Patrol Boats commenced refitting in Cairns with the work being carried out by private contractors.
On 1 February 1974, the Grafton Street Establishment was then given the title HMAS Cairns and commissioned under the command of Commander JM Yates RAN, with four officers and 30 sailors posted to HMAS Cairns. At this time HMAS Cairns was the home port for three Attack Class Patrol Boats, as well as a single Hydrographic Survey Ship.
HMAS Cairns is now located in Draper Street, Portsmith on the northern shore of Trinity Inlet and close to the central business district of Cairns. Reconstruction of the new establishment began in 1979 and the base was relocated and formally recommissioned to Draper Street on 28 May 1982. A major redevelopment of HMAS Cairns was undertaken in 2008/9 which transformed the Base into the Modern base it is today.
Today, HMAS Cairns has 900 navy and civilian personnel and is the home port of seven Naval Vessels. HMAS Cairns main responsibility is to provide maintenance, logistic, and administration support. HMAS Cairns also provides refit and training support for neighbouring Pacific Island nations.