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Reproduced courtesy of Robert McRae

Captain Doug Theobald on the attack periscope HMAS RANKIN

Date: 2015
Overall: 500 × 650 mm
Image: 400 × 545 mm
Medium: Pastel on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Copyright: © Robert McRae
Object Name: Drawing
Object No: 00054889

User Terms

    The Control room or operations room of HMAS Rankin is populated by crew including the commanding officer who is looking through the periscope. The artist had a minder with him for the duration of his time aboard and was generally treated with suspicion by most of the crew. McRae drew what was shown on the computer monitors from memory because he was not allowed to draw them when he was aboard. The features on the upper section of the submarine are emergency oxygen masks. The choice of a dark paper, the arrangement of the figures, the crew at their stations framed by banks of terminals with equipment in every square centimetre of space reinforces the cramped and almost claustrophobic nature of the space in this the nerve centre of the submarine.
    SignificanceThis body of work is the result of an informal artist residency by Robert McRae on two Collins class submarines and represents an artist's view of the secret life of submarines, when he explored the machinery, scale, internal spaces and arrangements, the role of the crew at their various work stations, (man in the machine), and weaponry, all of which is currently classified. The artist had a minder watching him work at all times and at times was stopped form working in certain parts of the sub. He was not allowed to photograph on board, except occasionally crew's faces, with special permission from high ranking officers. So most of these sketches were done on board watching the crew at work.

    It is a rare and unique record of the Collins class submarines.
    HistoryRobert McRae recounts the circumstances and impressions of completing these works on board submarines Dechaineux and Rankin in 2015 an email to Daina Fletcher James Hunter 25 May 2016:

    'The story of my Submarine work follows.

    In 2008 I worked as a war artist for the RAN in the Persian Gulf. Most of my time I had the privilege of drawing and painting on HMAS Arunta as she patrolled to protect Iraq's oil pumping stations. During this time I came to know the ships captain Tim Brown. As Tim saw the work I was doing he suggested that I might record the work of the Collins Class Submarine in artworks. Tim had previously been the captain of HMAS Sheane and described to me the imagery and life on these boats. Tim introduced me to Peter Horobin of the Submarine Institute of Australia after HMAS Arunta returned from the Middle East. The SIA group eventually in 2015, commissioned me to do a picture/sculpture/ screen about the Collins class submarine.

    The Work required that I research the submarine well. Mostly by drawing on the boats. I spent time on two Collins boats, HMAS Dechaineux and Rankin. HMAS Dechaineux was being refurbished at the base called HMAS Stirling in Western Australia. I had to obtain permission and security clearance from the navy. The permission was kindly granted by then Chief of Navy Admiral Griggs.

    Many Machines on the submarines are top secret and not every body tasked with keeping an eye on me knew all the security circumstances of the sub's parts. Those charged with minding me who were unsure simply stopped me from drawing. When this happened I would leave and go to my base accommodation and return later to find someone with the knowledge to allow me to draw another part of the boat. Even then some poor soul had to stay and watch me while I worked. I would often reward my minders if time presented itself with a drawn portrait of themselves done as they sat. I then asked them to photocopy the portrait for me and they would keep the original. This gave me crews faces for my picture and made it more entertaining for them to mind me.Photographs were not to be taken unless I asked someone of rank so many important images for my painting could not be photographed. I would draw these objects as this was permitted. At the end of my time the camera was examined and found to be clear of problem pictures.

    The first picture was of the Torpedo room which doubles as the main sleeping quarters. The sailors sleep beneath the torpedo's and missiles in sleeping bags. The engineers were overhauling the Hedamora Diesel engines in cramped walkways surrounded by associated machinery. I drew this on a darker sheet of paper as the light was low. The main Schnider engine was worked on by some while others watched me drawing. Bow and stern images are included in the drawings showing the boats form. The stern image was a problem as the propellor shape is classified, so its shape is distorted by the water movement to deal with the problem. Two dolphins watched me drawing the Stern of the boat. A cormorant rested on a tail fin as well. They are included in the stern drawing.

    The next trip was on HMAS Rankin. This was a working boat on a seaway trip from Geelong to Jarvis Bay. One drawing is of HMAS Rankin leaving the wharf. There were a great many differences between this trip and the first static sub visit. Both boats were as you might expect crowded but the moving boat was like a living creature. Man and machine in harmony working together. The first boat was in disarray and some disorder being refurbished but the moving boat ticked over like a clock. There was a thing for ever place and a place for everything. Even me, it was explained to me, how to correctly pass an oncoming crew member in the correct way so as not to disturb the flow of traffic in the narrow passageways. The secrets on HMAS Rankin were the same and I was restricted as before but I was watched a little more closely now as I had learn't a lot and was asking some detailed questions about the boat by this time. I spent a lot of time in the control room and felt the tension of the crew at surfacing. The surface Ships are tense at times but not like a submarine. I was asked by an officer for my impression of the crew in general to which I replied, intense. He seemed bothered by this and said that he was off watch and felt relaxed. To this I replied that even then to me he was intense it was not ment as a criticism but as an observation. Clearly submarines need to be constantly maintained and all things observed, including me. The observation screens in the control room of the world external to the boat are secret so I once again drew them rather than photograph them. I was allowed to spend time on a sound monitor which had a visual readout as well as sonic readout. I listened to a distant ship's propellers and the calls of a passing group of Humpback Whales while watching the visual readings of the two. I talked to the operator of the machine about the bionoise of Whales and dolphis and how they like to hang around submarines. I sketched these control surfaces to use in drawings and paintings The periscopes are beautifully designed machines which I had the privilege of using to gain understanding for the drawings of the control room. There is a dance that the man using the scope uses as he turns the scope around in the restricted space. Usually the upper body going well before the trailing leg's.

    I completed one control room picture and started another which I later completed. This was the basis of a large oil since completed. I spent more time in the engine room as we travelled. There were not so many secrets there, so I was left with the engineers who were happy to show me around the many devices of there part of the boat. I drew the entry area from the rear bulkhead covered by machinery and men working on it to clean it. Late one night I was invited to observe the dry firing of the torpedo tubes. A senior sailor filled each tube with water and dry fired it. The six tubes sit in line horizontally across the bow of the boat. This drawing was done with willow fired charcoal.'

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