Launched 5 May 1966, the guided missile destroyer HMAS Brisbane, aka “The Steel Cat”, served with the Royal Australian Navy between 16 December 1967 and 19 October 2001. In that time she was deployed to the Vietnam War twice and to the 1991 Gulf War. On 31 July 2005, the now ex-HMAS Brisbane was scuttled as an artificial reef and dive site 5 kilometres off the coast of Mudjimba, Queensland, a short distance north of her namesake city.
On descent a shadow appears and quickly sharpens into the solid, dagger shaped bow of the warship. The turret and barrel of the five-inch bow gun emerge as distinct shapes. Nearing the wreck, further details resolve into encrusted railings, bollards and hatches.
The ex-HMAS Brisbane is remarkably intact, sitting proudly on the sand with her bow facing any oncoming ground swell. Her structure is clearly defined, intact but swollen with marine growth.
Every surface is encrusted with a base of brown algae, enhanced by areas of spreading yellow or orange sponge. Calcified worm tubes and abandoned barnacle shells provide texture. Upon these earthy hues are interspersed lobes of smooth yellow, ridged pink and foaming white sponge.
Finally, there are occasional magnificent anemone, groves of pink polyp trees, sporadic green and orange gorgonian fans, and clumps of delicate sponge flutes, and beds of many-polyps carijoa.
Small reef fish such as sergeants, blenny, cleanerfish and damsels flit around the outside surfaces. Larger species such as common lionfish, zebra lionfish, and stonefish rest and hunt both inside and outside the wreck.
Moving back towards the superstructure and bordering walkways, lobsters, moray eels and octopi are housed in the many sheltered openings of pipes and fixtures.
The partially sheltered walkways host beds of many-polyps carijoa. Each stalk is enveloped by a layer of orange sponge, and at night or in the right feeding conditions, deploys branches of white polyps to gather plankton. The carioja beds shelter a riot of delicate lace corals, fluted sponges, and hydroid sea ferns, and are home to a dozen diverse species of nudibranches.
Inside the wreck, as corridors narrow or spaces funnel into hatchways, flailing fins have unfortunately swept bare tracks across the decks and some bulkheads. Away from the heavy traffic areas, internal growth reverts to the primary base of brown algae textured by calcified shells and tubes. Smears of spreading or globular yellow sponge are present, but more common on the upper decks.
Down into the boiler room, engine room, steerage and various workshops, which are crowded with large and complex machinery. Shrimp, lobsters and crabs populate the hidden cracks and crevices in abandoned equipment. Raw points of exposed orange rust stand in sharp contrast to the rough brown encrusted growth.
Deep within the bowels of the boiler room, lionfish, angelfish and moorish idols add splashes of colour and life. Frequent cuts in the hull ensure that natural light reaches every interior space. Wherever a diver is located inside the wreck, an exit will be readily apparent.
At the stern, another five-inch cannon precedes the guided missile silo, now devoid of the launch platform and carousel. Common lionfish can occasionally be seen feeding on the great schools of juvenile fish that take shelter within the great open cylinder of the silo.
Down to the sand at 28 meters depth are the rudders and now bare propeller shafts. Jewfish and rock cod shelter beneath the stern. To the sand around the wreck can be found flat head, yellow tail kingfish, and whitespotted eagle rays. The encrusted outer hull is, at depths between 20 and 13 meters, a riot of yellow, orange, white and purple sponges, and many nudibranchs.
Ascending past ladders and increasingly framework structures, leads to the funnels topping out at 5 meters depth. Still encrusted with growth and damselfish, the funnels also attract tight schools of silver baitfish and bigeyes. Ranging further out and up to the surface are schools of batfish, trevallie and snapper.