Not many historic vessels in the care of maritime museums around the world still work as hard as South Australia’s ex-police launch, Archie Badenoch. As pleasing to the eye as Archie is, she is not preserved by the South Australian Maritime Museum just to be admired. From her early days as a navy workboat operating in the Port, and throughout her long years as a harbour and coastal patrol vessel for the South Australian Police, the remarkable launch has served South Australia well. Today, Archie Badenoch continues this tradition as a museum cruise vessel actively involved in the education of the state's youth.
During the dark days of the Second World War around fifty 40-foot workboats were constructed in Australia for the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). A whole lot more were also built for the Australian Army and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). Various shipbuilders around the country were involved in the construction of the craft including Botterill & Fraser, NSW, and Brine from WA, together with vehicle builders General Motors Holden (GMH) and the Ford Motor Company in Victoria.
Between 1942 and 1946, as the boats entered service, they were allocated for duties throughout Australia and New Guinea. They were employed in every imaginable task, including carrying supplies, personnel transport and patrol duties. The Auxiliary Work Boats, or AWBs as they were more commonly known, were essentially identified by their individual numbers. Only two of the navy tenders received names. AWB 404 was called Topaz and AWB 420 became Amethyst. Both were based in Sydney. These solid workhorses were initially powered by Cadillac or Chrysler 175hp petrol engines while later craft were built with Gray Marine 64HN9 diesel engines. Eventually most vessels were converted to these engines, which pushed them along at a satisfactory 9 knots.
By 1 November, 1947, 43 of these reliable and extremely seaworthy boats remained in service with the navy or in reserve. As recent as the early 1980s, some 25 were still in use, a number of which had by then been rebuilt. The 40-foot AWB’s stout construction and durability made the vessel an ideal proposition for an afterlife in a civilian role or for conversion to pleasure craft.
Military and Police Service
One such boat was South Australia’s Archie Badenoch, built in November 1942 at the GMH plant at Birkenhead, Port Adelaide. Originally constructed during the Second World War workboat program, she was employed as a supply tender for the RAN around the port until 1946, when she was acquired by the South Australian Police. The Police Department named the vessel to commemorate Mounted Constable Archibald Badenoch. ‘Archie’ was the first South Australian Police Officer to be killed in action during the Second World War, in the battle for El Alamein, North Africa on 1 November, 1942. A sergeant in the 2/43rd Battalion, Archie was directing mortar fire from a forward position when an enemy shell exploded nearby, killing him instantly.
The police used their newly acquired vessel as their No. 1 Water Police launch from 1946 to 1978. Archie was their only all weather deep-sea police patrol vessel and she helped the force save many lives in South Australia’s coastal waters, while featuring in hundreds of water-borne rescues. Although credited with an outstanding working record, in November 1978 she was replaced with a larger, more modern vessel, the Warrendi. The next phase in the work boat’s career took her to Wardang Island, Spencer Gulf, where she was owned by the Department of Further Education and used by the local mission community. Some years later the launch fell into a state of disrepair and was left abandoned.
Restoration and Use as Floating Museum
In 1985 she was salvaged by the South Australian Police Historical Society, to be faithfully restored. After two years of painstaking work under the supervision of the vessel’s former master, South Australian Water Police Senior Constable Ron Newton (Rtd), custody of Archie was handed to the South Australian Maritime Museum. Now began a period of employment for the old launch that saw her far busier on a regular basis than she had ever been in the past. Fitted with a 115hp Perkins diesel, Archie Badenoch was surveyed to carry 24 passengers plus crew on cruises along the Port River as arranged by the Museum.
A team of approximately a dozen volunteers are rostered for duty as coxswains and deckhands to take groups of school children on 30-minute or one hour cruises on the river. The trips form part of a full day’s educational program at the South Australian Maritime Museum, where the students learn about the activities of the port, past and present. Crew members, mainly retired, come from a range of different backgrounds including master mariners and seamen who were associated with various commercial watercraft that operated around the port in busier times.
On the river, the young Archie passengers discover many aspects of the Port’s history and enjoy the opportunity to observe any shipping movements occurring during the time they are onboard. A highlight is often the appearance of inquisitive bottlenose dolphins that approach the launch to peer at the wide-eyed, fresh faces gazing back at them. About 30 dolphins live in the Port River and are one of the few metropolitan pods on the planet.
Responsibility for the maintenance of Archie Badenoch these days falls on the Museum’s fleet manager, Stuart Davie, who is ably assisted by some of the volunteers. Stuart manages a regular slipping schedule, which enables sub-contractors to attend to the more significant work the vessel needs to keep her in the outstanding shape that belies her 70-plus years. Each year thousands of school children are added to the list of young people who can claim they have cruised up the river on the museum’s historic motor vessel. There’s no doubt that Mounted Constable Archibald Badenoch would be well pleased the old police launch that proudly bears his name is still involved in such worthwhile work.
Gillett, Ross, Australian and New Zealand warships, 1914-1945 (Lane Cove, NSW: Doubleday Australia Pty Ltd, 1983).
Gillett, Ross (ed), Australia's armed forces of the eighties (Brookvale, NSW: Child & Henry Publishing Pty Ltd, 1982).