HMAS Penguin

HMAS Penguin
HMAS Penguin Badge.

Situated in the suburb of Balmoral on Middle Head in Sydney Harbour, HMAS Penguin is surrounded by beaches and parkland and is within 30 minutes of the city centre.

Penguin is also close to many of the sights and sounds of Sydney including Manly Beach and Taronga Park Zoo.

HMAS Penguin is a part of Navy's Systems Command. Its primary role is to provide trained personnel to the Fleet and it is the home of the RAN Diving School, the RAN Hydrographic School and the Medical Training School.

Penguin is also home to the Balmoral Naval Hospital, the Navy's principal medical facility, and provides trained personnel for the Primary Casualty Receiving Facilities embarked in the Navy's amphibious training ships, HMAS Kanimbla and HMAS Manoora. The Submarine and underwater Medicine Unit and the RAN Recompression Chamber Facility also reside at Penguin and reinforce the establishment's claim as a centre of underwater medicine expertise.

In 2003, Penguin will assume a greater tri-Service flavour with the relocation of Headquarters, 1 Commando Regiment from Randwick and the move of 1 Commando Company from Georges Heights.

Today, Penguin remains the Navy's main medical facility - and is assuming a broader Defence role. A strategic alliance has been established with the Royal North Shore Hospital and hospital provides primary medical care to Defence personnel across the wider Sydney area. Uniformed medical staff continue to staff the embarked Primary Casualty Receiving Facilities, when needed. A pathology centre provides pathology services to Defence units across Australia and psychology staff provide counseling services and a critical stress incident management capability for the RAN.

As the military presence on Middle Head, Penguin is fortunate to enjoy the strong support of the local community and publicly acknowledges it. Penguin is a part of Mosman and, together, we celebrate sixty years of continuing service.


Penguin's motto is 'Proud to Serve'. It is very apt and befitting a ship that has served Australia - in different guises - for longer than the Royal Australian Navy has existed. Indeed, Penguin's have served Australia in an almost unbroken line since 1877; a tradition of service stretching 125 years!

The first Penguin was a composite sloop that first commissioned in the Royal Navy in 1877 and served on the Australia Station. After a brief period of service on the East Indies Station which included involvement in the Blockade of Zanzibar, Penguin was outfitted for surveying operations. From 1889 to 1907 she conducted hydrographic surveys in Pacific, Chinese and Australian waters - including exhaustive surveys of the Great Barrier Reef - before being dismasted, roofed over and reconfigured for service as a depot ship in Sydney. In this role she was transferred to the RAN in 1913 and was berthed at Garden Island, remaining in commission until 1 January 1923.

Penguin was subsequently sold and converted into a floating crane. In this guise she continued to work in Sydney Harbour for a further 35 years before burning to the waterline in Kerosene Bay on 13 December 1960.

Penguin (II) was the former light cruiser HMAS Encounter, part of the Australian Fleet that entered Sydney Harbour for the first time on 4 October 1913. Encounter was renamed Penguin (II) on 1 January 1923 and assumed responsibilities as the Navy's depot and accommodation ship at Garden Island. She was paid-off for disposal on 15 October 1929 eventually being stripped and towed out to sea to be sunk off Sydney on 14 September 1932.

Penguin (III) began service as HMAS Platypus, a Submarine and Destroyer Tender and Fleet Repair Ship. Platypus commissioned as Penguin (III) on 16 August 1929 and became the new depot and accommodation ship at Garden Island. She continued in this role until 26 February 1941 when, recommissioned HMAS Platypus, she resumed sea service as a Training Ship.

In 1939, Penguin (Garden Island) was the Navy's main base in Sydney. At the outbreak of war, additional support bases were established in Newcastle, Brisbane and Darwin and each of these was also named Penguin.

In 1941, construction of the existing establishment at Balmoral began. The depot, designed to provide sleeping accommodation for 700 men with necessary administration, support offices and recreational facilities also included the Balmoral Naval Hospital. It was commissioned as Penguin II on 14 July 1942 and, when Garden Island was renamed HMAS Kuttabul on 1 January 1943 - in memory of those killed on the ferry Kuttabul in the Japanese midget submarine attack on Sydney Harbour - Penguin II became simply Penguin.

Before the Balmoral site was transferred to the Commonwealth Government for Defence use it had been home to the Mosman Golf Club. The former clubhouse remains across the road from the main entrance to Penguin. Before that the site housed the Mosman sewerage works; the swimming pool and the old sandstone tower remain as reminders of this period. The swimming pool also lays claim to the title of home of the 'Australian crawl'.

The current Penguin has a proud history and tradition and has filled various important roles reflecting recurring themes of operations, diving, health care and training:

  • On commissioning Penguin was the home of the Balmoral Naval Hospital and served as a convalescence centre and as base for the Fairmile B Motor Launches that patrolled Sydney Harbour. After the war, it became the main demobilization base for the Navy.
  • Between 1945-1974, Penguin was home to the RAN Seamanship School. HMAS Countersunk, a damage control simulator - built from scrap recovered from the battle-damaged HMAS Australia and HMAS Hobart - was constructed on site and, until well into the 1980s, as part of the Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defence School, it continued to train officers and sailors in the art of battle damage repair.
  • Between 1948-1967, Penguin was home to the Royal Navy's Fourth Submarine Squadron before the First Australian Submarine Squadron was formed in 1968 and home-ported at HMAS Platypus, Neutral Bay.
  • During the period of National Service, 1951-1954, Penguin housed Navy's National Service Recruit School.
  • In the early 1960s, the RAN Hydrographic School was established at Penguin. With the departure of the Submarine Squadron, the RAN Diving School and the Submarine and Underwater Medicine Unit, occupied the site.
  • In mid-1968, Clearance Diving Team 2, which was formed at HMAS Rushcutter in 1966, was transferred to Penguin.
  • From 1979-2000, the RAN Staff College was based at Penguin before moving to Canberra at the end of 2000 to collocate with the other Service Staff Colleges.
  • In 1985, a Recompression Chamber Facility was opened.
  • In the 1990s, the Security and Naval Police Coxswains School operated out of Penguin before relocating to Holsworthy in 2000 as part of a new Military Police Training Centre. During this same period, Project Duwan, a Challenge Ropes Course was built on site and provides practical leadership and team-building training for Service, Defence and community groups.
  • In 1999, the State Headquarters of the Australian Navy Cadets was established at Penguin, coincident with the Commanding Officer's appointment as the ANC's Local Naval Authority, providing RAN oversight of the 20 ANC units across NSW and ACT.
  • Other occasional residents at Penguin have included the RAN Band, Clearance Diving Team 1 and the Navy Sailing Centre. In 2003, Army's Headquarters, 1 Commando Regiment and 1 Commando Company also became lodger units at Penguin.