HMAS Kiara (formerly Penelope)


Penelope was the first motor cruiser requisitioned by the Navy. (305)  Her first owner, R S Harden placed his order with Halvorsens in June 1938.  Designed by Harold Halvorsen as an ‘express cruiser’, she was one of the smallest of the Hollywood Fleet at only 50 feet (15.24m), but one of the most striking of all the vessels requisitioned by the Navy into war service.  Harold declared her hull lines to be ‘about as perfect as you can get’. (306)  The vessel was completed in 1938. (307)


Penelope on Sydney Harbour. (308)


Gwen Mills and Margit Halvorsen relaxing on the ‘express cruiser’ Penelope circa 1938. (309)


Penelope was requisitioned on 21 February 1941 and surveyed in April 1941 on behalf of the Navy. (310)  The Lloyds surveyor valued her at £3,000.  She was powered by two 8 cylinder Chrysler marine engines each delivering 140hp.  Given her small size and the power of the engines, she was the fastest of the Hollywood Fleet and included a saloon, pantry with petrol stove and refrigerator, lavatory, fore cabin with two bunks and a cockpit.  Unlike the other vessels, she was fitted throughout with an automatic fire extinguishing system.  Details of negotiations between Harden and the Navy have not been found.  The price paid by the Navy is unknown.


General arrangement plan of the ‘express motor cruiser’ Penelope. (311)


By May 1941, she was back at Halvorsen’s being reconditioned for the Navy.  On 9 May 1941, the Naval Board dealt with a dilemma.  A ship by the name, Penelope had already been commissioned into the Royal Navy.  To avoid confusion, the Board determined the requisitioned Penelope would be named HMAS Kiara, meaning White Cockatoo. (312)


HMAS Kiara was also the first of the Sydney motor cruisers to be commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy on 26 May 1941 under the command of Lieutenant Hugh C Brown RANVR. (313)  According to the Navy’s ‘Ship Index Cards’, she was fitted with a single .303 Vickers machine gun.  There is no record of her being fitted with depth charges.


On 20 June 1941, she sailed to Broken Bay, 20 km north of Sydney, for three days for ‘working up’, and on 29 June 1941, Penelope as HMAS Kiara, departed Sydney for Darwin, accompanied by the stores ship, HMAS Southern Cross. (314)


On 1 July with one engine broken down, she was taken in tow by Southern Cross steaming dead slow in a short heavy sea.  As the weather moderated, Kiara proceeded under her own power and both vessels reached Brisbane the following day.  Repairs were completed and both vessels proceeded north through the Barrier Reef.  Kiara again developed engine problems and was taken in tow to Townsville.  Following further repairs, both vessels sailed again and arrived in Cairns on 16 July.  Repairs were completed on the gearbox and both vessels sailed from Cairns on 21 July and arrived at Cooktown the following day.  Both vessels continued their journey and arrived at Thursday Island on 26 July.  Kiara was refueled and departed for Darwin the following day.  En-route, both vessels anchored at Elcho Island and Popham Bay before arriving in Darwin on the evening of 1 August 1941.


Penelope being transformed into HMAS Kiara. (315)


Kiara was never to return to Sydney.


In late July 1941, the defence authorities were concerned that Boyne Harbour to the west of Darwin may provide a landing area for enemy forces to launch an attack on Darwin.  Following a reconnaissance which confirmed the threat, Kiara with HMAS Vigilant conducted a survey of the upper reaches of the harbour.  Additional early duties included carrying out trials with anti-mine equipment and guarding the passenger and cargo vessel SS Zealandia.


On 21 October 1941 whilst undertaking further survey duties, she struck a rock and was holed.  She was beached and later bought into harbour for repairs.  In December she commenced her main duties as a Boom Patrol Vessel which she continued throughout her remaining time at Darwin.  In addition, she assisted with searches for ‘downed’ planes, including a missing Hudson bomber in the Clarence Strait area.  She was at Darwin during the first and later air raids on the port and city.  At times she was stationed for air observation duties to provide fore-warning of enemy attacks and was stationed for air sea rescue duties during bombing raids.  For the later period of 1943, she was out of action awaiting repairs to her engines.  She was ‘re-commissioned’ for a return to service on 26 March 1944, and in mid 1944 she was joined by other Halvorsen motor cruisers, Seamist and Steady Hour which had arrived on 22 May 1944.  With the war moving north away from Darwin and with no further need of the boom net, HMAS Kiara was ‘paid off’ on 27 September 1944.


On 11 August 1945, she was advertised by the Department of Navy for sale at Darwin, (316) and was subsequently purchased by Flight Sargent C P Malvern on 1 November 1945 for £385. (317)


Although she is included in the Navy’s list of vessels actively involved in the defence of Darwin, HMAS Kiara is not included in the Navy’s ‘Ship Histories’, and there is no record or photograph of her at the Australian War Memorial.  Other than the report of her voyage north from Sydney to Darwin in company with Southern Cross, and the odd reference in the Darwin reports, there is no other record – there are no Reports of Proceedings from her commander.  


HMAS Kiara was awarded the ‘Darwin 1942-43’ Battle Honour for her duties during the Japanese bombing raids. (318)  Her actions were also recognised on a memorial plaque in Darwin, unveiled in 1992. (319)

HMAS Kiara and Winbah, bottom row, right side.  Main text on plaque below. (320)


Royal Australian Navy

Dedicated 19th February 1992

This plaque is dedicated to those members of the Royal Australian Navy who served in the ships listed below and HMAS Melville (Shore base) on 19th February 1942 during the 1st Japanese air raid on Darwin and those who defended Darwin, during subsequent raids.  It honours those who made the supreme sacrifice.

‘Lest we forget’

This plaque was unveiled by the Federal President of the Naval Association

CDRE J L W Merson RAN Ret’d


Like other vessels of the fleet, nothing more is known of her activities after the war.  HMAS Kiara is not included in the Navy’s ‘Ship Histories’.

305 AWM 78/418/1 - Sydney Log

306 Svensen, R., The Halvorsen Story, p.82

307 ANMM -

308 Halvorsen photograph album, No. 2 held by the ANMM

309 Halvorsen photograph album, No. 2 held by the ANMM

310 NAA: MP150/1, 674/205/690 – Report of survey of Hull and machinery, and valuation survey of SS Penelope.  This record includes details of requisition and purchase.

311 ANMM -

312 NAA A2585, 1938/1941/Reference Copy – Naval Board Minutes, 1939-1941, Meeting 9 May 1941

313 NAA: AWM78, 418/1: Sydney Log

314 NAA: AWM78, 316/1: HMAS Southern Cross [and HMAS Kiara]: Reports of Proceedings

315 Halvorsen photograph album, No. 2 held by the ANMM

316 Army News (Darwin), 11 August 1945, p.4

317 RAN Sea Power Centre - Australia: Ship Index Cards, HMAS Kiara