Rear Admiral Peter Ross Sinclair

Peter Ross Sinclair was born in Manly, NSW on 16 November 1934, and as a lad during the later years of World War II he joined the Navy League Sea Cadets. He was educated at Balgowlah Primary School and North Sydney Boys High School, before entering the RAN College as a Cadet Midshipman in January 1948. Following graduation in November 1951, he sailed to England with the rest of his class as a Watchkeeping Officer in RMS Stratheden for further training with the Royal Navy. During 1952 Sinclair served in the training cruiser HMS Devonshire, before joining the submarine depot ship HMS Maidstone as a Midshipman in September of that year. He experienced some time in submarines during this later posting. Midshipman Sinclair was posted to the aircraft carrier HMAS Vengeance in December 1952, which had been loaned to the RAN due to delays in commissioning the aircraft carrier Melbourne. Vengeance sailed from England in January 1953, arriving in Australia in March.

Midshipman Sinclair joined the RAN’S training cruiser HMAS Australia in April 1953, achieving a first class pass in his Midshipman’s board. He was promoted Acting Sub Lieutenant in January 1954, and appointed to the destroyer HMAS Arunta in which he saw service in Korean waters. He served briefly in the destroyer HMAS Tobruk before returning to the United Kingdom for Sub Lieutenants' courses in March 1954. Upon returning to Australia in late 1955, he joined the aircraft carrier HMAS Sydney as the Assistant Training Officer and Sub Lieutenant of the Midshipmen’s Gunroom. In this latter role, in addition to supervising Australian midshipmen, he had 19 Pakistan Navy midshipmen under his charge who were training in Australia as part of the then Colombo Plan. During his service in Sydney the ship combined flying operations with training duties for National Servicemen and regular navy trainees in Australian, New Zealand and Southeast Asian waters.

Peter Sinclair was granted his Bridge Watchkeeping Certificate in Sydney and was promoted Lieutenant in July 1956. On 9 May 1957 he married Shirley McLellan in Sydney, (they later had two daughters and a son), before joining the training frigate HMAS Swan eleven days later. In Swan Lieutenant Sinclair was responsible for the training of Midshipmen as well as performing the duties of the ship's Torpedo and Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer.

In July 1958 Lieutenant Sinclair commenced the Long Gunnery Course with the Royal Navy at Greenwich and HMS Excellent (Whale Island). On graduation he was posted as Gunnery Officer of the Battle Class destroyer HMS Jutland in which he saw service in British and Mediterranean waters. He was commended for his part in the salvage of the British merchant ship MV Tabor during the destroyer's time in the Mediterranean. Sinclair then served six months with the experimental department at Whale Island before returning to Australia in early 1962. Lieutenant Sinclair was then appointed as the Australian Gunnery Trials Officer in charge of the RAN gunnery trials team at HMAS Cerberus. Although this was a shore based position, he worked in every seagoing ship in the RAN during the next two years.

In February 1964 Sinclair was appointed to the destroyer HMAS Vendetta as Gunnery Officer and Midshipmen’s Training Officer, serving in her until June 1965. He was promoted to Lieutenant Commander in July 1964 and during that time Vendetta operated in Australian and Southeast Asian waters. In the later part of 1964 the destroyer undertook anti-Indonesian infiltration patrols in the Mersing area, off the east coast of Malaya, as well as patrols off Sabah during Konfrontasi. Sinclair was also the destroyer’s Boarding Officer, conducting several boarding of Indonesian and Philippine vessels during that time. Vendetta was subsequently awarded the Duke of Gloucester's Cup, as the most efficient ship in the RAN, during his service on board.

Vendetta commenced a refit in 1965, and Lieutenant Commander Sinclair was appointed as the Gunnery Staff Officer in the Directorate of Tactics and Staff Requirements (later renamed the Directorate of Tactics and Weapons Policy) in Navy Office, Canberra. As such he was involved in the development of requirements for new ships and surface weapons systems. In late June 1967 Lieutenant Commander Sinclair was appointed Executive Officer of the destroyer HMAS Vampire. He joined the ship mid-way through a deployment to Southeast Asia, and was on board when the destroyer became the first RAN warship to recommence visits to Indonesia, in September 1967 following the end of Konfrontasi. Vampire was also the first ship to visit South Korea after an absence of RAN visits for over a decade. Sinclair remained as Executive Officer until June 1968.

Peter Sinclair was promoted Acting Commander in July 1968 and posted to Navy Office as the first Director of Surface and Air Weapons (DSAW). He was confirmed in the rank of Commander on 31 December 1968. His period as Director covered the introduction of the A4 Skyhawk fighter and the Grumman Tracker Anti-submarine warfare aircraft into the RAN. During his time as DSAW he also spent several weeks in Vietnamese waters on board US Navy warships, including the aircraft carriers USS Constellation and USS Coral Sea as well as the destroyers USS Fechteler and USS Davis. This service with the US Navy was twofold, being part of the planning required for HMAS Vendetta (a non-US designed ship) to deploy to Vietnamese waters in late 1969, and also to assist the RAN with its air weapons policy.

Sinclair's first command was the destroyer HMAS Duchess. He joined her in November 1970 as the ship was completing a refit, and in March 1971 the ship sailed for a three month deployment to Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and Japan. Duchess also conducted escort duties for HMAS Sydney during her troop transport deployments to Vung Tau, South Vietnam, in April (5 April) and May (22-23 May) 1971, before returning to Australia for a four month maintenance period commencing in late June 1971. On completion of this work she remained in Australian waters for the remainder of the year. Duchess was awarded the Otranto Shield for gunnery excellence in January 1971 and was also a close contender for the Duke of Gloucester's Cup. Commander Sinclair then undertook staff training at the Joint Service Staff College in Canberra in the first half of 1972

On completion of the staff course, he took up his next appointment as the Commander (Executive Officer) of the Junior Recruit Training Establishment HMAS Leeuwin, at Fremantle, in July 1972. This position also carried with it the additional responsibilities of Deputy Naval Officer Commanding Western Australia. Following claims of improper conduct at Leeuwin in the 1960s, Judge Trevor Rapke had undertaken a review of HMAS Leeuwin in 1971. A number of these issues were confirmed, and Commodore Peter Doyle, RAN and Commander Sinclair were posted there to take action to restore good order and discipline.

Peter Sinclair took command of the guided missile destroyer HMAS Hobart on 11 December 1974 while the ship was undertaking a mid-cycle docking. A few weeks later, however, on Christmas morning, Cyclone Tracy devastated Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory, causing catastrophic damage and heavy loss of life. Within 48 hours the Royal Australian Navy dispatched several ships, including Hobart, to the city to undertake Operation NAVY HELP DARWIN. Ships' companies were recalled from leave, and in Hobart’s case, two of her four boilers had been dismantled for routine maintenance and she had to sail with repairs being completed en route to Darwin.

Hobart arrived in Darwin on 3 January 1975, and her ship's company was involved in the massive clean up and restoration of essential services to the city. From Monday to Saturday the ship landed half her personnel to work ashore in harsh and demanding conditions, and on Sundays many willing volunteers augmented the work parties. In addition, the destroyer ran the city’s radio station from on board while the shore facilities were repaired. Of note is that Peter Sinclair had joined Hobart as a Commander, and his promotion to the rank of Captain took effect on 31 December 1974, at sea while steaming north to Darwin.

Hobart then deployed to Hawaii for Exercise RIMPAC 75, port visits to South West Pacific nations, an Indian Ocean deployment, including the first visit to the Maldives for an RAN ship, and exercises with the Iranian, Pakistan and Indian navies. Captain Sinclair commanded one of the exercises with the Iranian Navy, based at Bandar Abbas, and this was only a few months before the Iranian revolution and the overthrow of the Shah. The year concluded with visits to several Southeast Asian ports.

In 1976 Hobart took part in Operation PHINEAS FOGG, from April to September 1976, which entailed circumnavigating the globe, and taking part in the International Fleet Review in New York as part of the United States Bicentennial Celebrations. During this deployment Hobart visited Fiji, Hawaii, Longbeach, San Francisco and Rodman before transiting the Panama Canal. She then visited Norfolk, New York, Baltimore, the Azores, Gibraltar, Toulon and Naples before steaming through the Suez Canal. On her final leg of the deployment she visited Aqaba, Djibouti, Cochin, Singapore and Darwin before arriving back in Sydney on 3 September. On return to Australia the destroyer entered a major refit to install a new naval combat data system. Captain Sinclair formally relinquished command of Hobart on 15 January 1978.

Captain Sinclair then assisted Rear Admiral Geoffrey Gladstone to conduct a command and control study for the RAN. This major study resulted in the RAN changing from a geographic to a functional command structure, thus leading to the creation of the Naval Support Command and Fleet Command structure. His next appointment was command of the shore depot HMAS Penguin. Located on Middle Head in Sydney, Penguin was a diverse command including the RAN hospital, medical training school, damage control school, diving school, hydrographic school, RAN Band and a number of other smaller units. At the end of 1978 Captain Sinclair was appointed as the Director Naval Plans in Navy Office, but on 15 November 1979 he was promoted Commodore and took up the duties of Director General Military Staff Branch of the Strategic & International Policy Division (Department of Defence), where he served during 1980-81.

Commodore Sinclair was selected to attend the Royal College of Defence Studies in London in 1982. Prior to this he went back to sea briefly in HMAS Melbourne, in preparation for assuming command of the carrier in 1983. While at the college significant changes both in Australia and the world caused this plan to be cancelled. Firstly, the British Government offered to sell the aircraft carrier HMS Invincible to the RAN and this resulted in Melbourne being decommissioned on 30 June 1982. The Falklands War, however, reminded the Royal Navy of their essential need to keep Invincible in their order of battle and the Australian Government agreed to cancel the sale. With the change of Government in Australia in 1983, the newly elected Hawke Government decided to dispense with carrier borne aircraft and Sinclair’s carrier command never transpired. On his return to Australia he became Chief of Staff and Deputy to the Naval Support Commander in January 1983.

He was promoted Rear Admiral on 2 July 1984 to become the Commandant and the third, and last, Chief Project Officer of the new Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra. These two roles were in many way incompatible, however the nearly completed Academy opened in January 1986 with Sinclair as its first Commandant. The second and third year cadets were transferred from the single service colleges, while the new first year cadets included women for the first time. The challenges were many, varied and difficult but the Academy’s first year was successful. Peter Sinclair late recalled this as his most difficult but also most satisfying posting in his career to date. He was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in the Australia Day 1986 Honours List "For service to the Royal Australian Navy, particularly as the first Commandant of the Australian Defence Force Academy".

In January 1987 Rear Admiral Sinclair became Flag Officer Commanding the Australian Fleet (the title was later changed to Maritime Commander - Australia). During his command, he assumed the joint role of Maritime Commander for Operation MORRIS DANCE (May 1987) when the first Fiji coup occurred. Under the new command and control arrangements Fleet Headquarters became a Joint Headquarters. Contingency planning for the evacuation of up to 3000 Australian citizens and other civilians saw a joint task force of RAN ships (with Australian soldiers embarked) sail to Fijian waters. HMAS Sydney was actually in Suva when the coup took place, but the evacuation of Australian nationals by sea was not required. In May the following year HMA Ships Jervis Bay and Stalwart were placed on standby for Operation SAILCLOTH when political unrest occurred in Vanuatu, but again intervention was not required.

On 3 August 1987 two sailors were lost at sea from the submarine HMAS Otama when, due to a breakdown in procedures, the submarine dived while both men were still inside the fin. A naval board of inquiry recommended that two personnel be subjected to court martial proceedings. However it was clear that the causes of the tragedy were more complex and involved a larger number of personnel. Administrative action was carried out involving members of Otama’s ship's company. A NSW coronial inquiry was also conducted (one of the first heard by the new office of the State Coroner of New South Wales), and received much publicity. On a more pleasant note the Fleet was heavily involved in the successful bicentennial celebrations in January 1988, marking the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788. Sinclair’s involvement in the United States bicentennial celebrations, while commanding HMAS Hobart, assisted with planning many of the events in Sydney Harbour.

In 1989 Rear Admiral Sinclair was appointed as Deputy Chief of Naval Staff before retiring from the RAN later that year after nearly 42 years of service. He took up cattle breeding on his farm 'Kirkbreck', a property near Tea Gardens, NSW. In April 1990 the Premier of New South Wales, Nick Greiner, asked Sinclair to coordinate the flood recovery operations following the disastrous flooding of the Bogan Shire, including the town of Nyngan. His previous experience in 1975, dealing with the aftermath of Cyclone Tracy, also assisted him to effect relief with the aid of ADF personnel and Volunteer Bush Fire Brigade teams. The majority of the civilian population was also evacuated using ADF and civilian helicopters.

A few weeks after returning to his farm, Sinclair was asked to succeed his close friend Sir David Martin as Governor of New South Wales. Rear Admiral Sir David Martin had resigned his commission due to an advancing and terminal medical condition. On 8 August 1990 Rear Admiral Peter Sinclair was appointed as the 35th Governor of New South Wales. Sir David Martin died three days later on 10 August. Upon being sworn in, Sinclair declared that he and his wife would "steer a broad course set by Sir David and Lady Martin".

As a consequence of being Governor, Sinclair was also appointed Honorary and Regimental Colonel of the Royal New South Wales Regiment and Honorary Air Commodore of No. 22 Squadron (Royal Australian Air Force) - an interesting experience for a naval officer. In 1991 he was made a Knight of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem (KStJ), and the following year was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC - General Division) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List 1992 “For Service to the Crown as the Governor of New South Wales”. In 1992, he was appointed a Doctor of the University (honoris causa) by the University of Sydney, and in 1996 he was also appointed a Doctor of the University (honoris causa) by Southern Cross University.

Rear Admiral Peter Sinclair, Governor of New South Wales, inspecting a Tri-Service guard in Sydney.

As Governor of New South Wales he carried out his constitutional and ceremonial roles responsibly, and shared the considerable community activities with his wife. They attempted to give some priority to country visits, and there were few towns not visited during their tenure of office. They were also the first to hold open days at Government House, with the first held on 24 March 1991, and by the end of his term in 1996 approximately 35,000 people had visited the Vice-Regal residence. Sinclair's last public appearance as Governor was at an Australia Day event at Darling Harbour. On 28 January 1996 a great many visitors attended the Government House open day, while a larger crowd of 15,000 farewelled the Sinclairs on their departure from Government House two days later. On 1 March 1996 Gordon Jacob Samuels AC, CVO, QC became the 36th Governor of New South Wales.

Upon retiring Rear Admiral Sinclair returned to 'Kirkbreck' and resumed farming life. However he has continued to be active in public life as the patron of many public institutions, and was Chairman of the Council of the Order of Australia from 1996 to 2001. He gives regular talks to various groups on constitutional and other matters, and generally encourages good citizenship. Sinclair was awarded the Centenary Medal in 2001.