The first HMAS PERTH was originally the HMS AMPHION (pronounced am-PHY-on), a Royal Navy cruiser that was transferred to the Royal Australian Navy in 1939.
After distinguished service in the Mediterranean during World War II, the PERTH was sunk while engaged in a fierce sea battle in the Sunda Strait off Indonesia during the early hours of 1 March, 1942.
PERTH was travelling with the USS HOUSTON back from the Battle of the Java Sea when they happened upon a large Japanese fleet. Although the two ships were hopelessly outnumbered, both engaged the enemy, fought valiantly, and sank within minutes of each other suffering terrible loss of life. Of the PERTH’s complement of 681 personnel, 357 died that night, the tragedy being the Australian Navy’s second greatest loss of life on the seas. The survivors were captured and many spent years as prisoners of war. Only 229 eventually made it home.
The Perth Town Hall has long been regarded as the spiritual home of PERTH and a bronze plaque on the north wall of the Town Hall is dedicated to its officers and men.
The sailors on the PERTH have received the City’s highest honour, Freedom of Entry, which was traditionally extended to armed military bodies and allowed them to march through the streets of the city. In demonstration of this right they march through the streets with pomp and ceremony, drums beating and banners flying etc. This right was exercised just prior to the PERTH II being decommissioned and scuttled off Albany in 2001, and again in 2006 when the newly commissioned PERTH III was completed, with a reception at Perth Town Hall.
The smaller bell is from PERTH II and was presented to the City of Perth after the ship was decommissioned. Inscribed on the inside rim are the names of sailors’ babies who were christened on board (in keeping with navy tradition), with the inverted bell serving as the christening font.
The ship’s model was presented to the City of Perth in 1998 by the Survivors of the PERTH. It is kept in perpetuity at the Town Hall.